If it were not for the rail-thin frame of 42-year-old Krishna Neupane, it would be hard to believe that he had lost 56 kilos during his eight-month detention in Malaysia. From an overweight 94 kilos, he now weighs 38 kilos, which puts him in the category of ‘severely malnourished’. But this drastic change in his weight is not surprising considering what he had to go through in detention: arbitrary beating, starvation and constant humiliation. He was repeatedly forced to strip naked, and then made to walk on his bare knees; he was also denied timely food. Neupane, who had entered Malaysia illegally, was clearly in the wrong. Yet that does not justify the inhumane treatment meted out by Malaysian security forces to detainees like Neupane—whatever their crimes—in clear breach of the UN convention against torture. Currently around 500 Nepalis are holed up in various detention centers in Malaysia, for either entering the country illegally or breaching other visa requirements. Another 350 Nepalis are in other Malaysian prisons for crimes like murder and drug smuggling.
The testimonies of those who have had the good fortune of being able to return to Nepal suggest that the practice of torture is pervasive in Malaysian prisons and detention centers. Last October, 270 Nepali migrants were rescued from captivity and repatriated at the initiative of Nepal government and some big Malaysian employers. It might not be possible to bring back those convicted of serious crimes. But prisoners too are human beings who are entitled to dignified life. In the case of the 500 Nepalis in various detention centers for visa-related crimes, Nepal should keep engaging the Malaysian government and major Malaysian employers to work out ways for their safe release and repatriation—as it successfully did back in October. The October return of 270 workers showed that if Nepal is willing to make some noise, Malaysia will be willing to listen.
This is also why, in light of the recently publicized cases of torture of Nepalis in Malaysia, Nepal must make Kuala Lumpur aware of its displeasure and ask it to make amends. It can do so in many ways. Around 700,000 Nepalis are currently working in Malaysia. According to the Nepali embassy in Kuala Lumpur, one Nepali is killed every single day in the Malaya Kingdom; some 3,000 Nepali nationals have died there since 2003. Clearly, something is amiss. But so many Nepalis would not be in trouble if they were not in Malaysia illegally. Many continue to grave risks to get there. It will be impossible to stop them all. But a huge progress would have been made if there could be more transparency in paperwork between employers and workers. Often, the workers are promised far better terms than what they actually get on their arrival in Malaysia. There are so many little things which, taken together, could vastly improve the lives of Nepali migrants workers in Malaysia. Encouraged by last year’s success at repatriation of stranded Nepali detainees, Sushil Koirala and his ministers should keep nudging Malaysia to do more to protect and respectfully treat Nepalis there.