Evacuation lessons from Nepal after the Afghan and Ukrainian crises
When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, Nepal was completely unaware of the number of Nepali nationals in the Eastern European country. As tensions mounted, people began to flee the war countries and countries around the world rushed to evacuate their citizens. Nepal had neither plans nor means.
India has launched its rescue operation dubbed “Operation Ganga”. No fewer than six Nepalese, four on Saturday, were evacuated by the Indian government along with its citizens.
Last year, also in August, when the Afghan capital fell to the Taliban, the Nepalese government could do nothing to save its citizens. He didn’t have the data on the Nepalese in Afghanistan. As she rushed to bring the Nepalese home, Kathmandu turned to foreign powers for help.
Two consecutive struggles to evacuate its citizens from crisis-hit countries, officials and diplomats say, are bitter experiences that should serve as a lesson for Nepal. According to them, the evacuation of these two countries was arduous and delicate for several reasons, including the weak diplomatic presence of Nepal.
“The strength of a country’s diplomatic presence is extremely important when it comes to evacuations,” said Ramesh Khanal, Nepal’s former ambassador to Germany, who is currently accredited to deal with Ukraine. “In the case of Ukraine, our diplomatic presence was poor because we didn’t even present our credentials.”
The Nepalese Embassy in Moscow was previously accredited to deal with Ukrainian affairs. After Kiev’s constant demand that the accreditation be transferred to any other European country, the government of Nepal changed it to Berlin from Moscow in 2016.
Khanal was unable to present his credentials in Ukraine while serving as Nepal’s ambassador to Germany. Ramkaji Khadka, the current ambassador to Germany, has not done so either and there is no certainty when he will be able to do so, given the ongoing war.
While Ukraine and Afghanistan are two recent cases, Nepal has an uneven record of evacuating its nationals during crises in other countries in the past.
When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, the Nepalese government had sent a Royal Nepal Airlines plane to Kuwait to bring back its citizens. In 2014, Iraq faced a crisis after the Islamic State launched a deadly attack. The Nepalese in the Gulf country have been trapped. After the clamor of the relatives of Nepali nationals working in Iraq, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent Arjun Kant Mainali, who was undersecretary, to bring Nepalese citizens home.
Mainali told the Post that he had to stay in Kuwait for more than two weeks to get permission from Baghdad to enter Iraq.
Although the Nepalese Embassy in Pakistan was accredited to deal with Iraq, due to fear and escalating tensions, the government sent Mainali directly to Baghdad for the evacuation offer.
“Our current accounting system is also very complicated, as some rescue missions become tricky when we face unforeseen expenses. There is no system to address these concerns,” Mainali said. “In this case, our ingenuity also counts a lot.It takes money, a good system and good sources of information.
Diplomats and officials say there have been political and bureaucratic hassles when it comes to rescue operations for countries like Nepal. Even if the leaders are well aware of the scale of the crisis and must launch evacuation missions, they must wait for the directives of the political leaders, often rather slow to react according to them.
In late 2019 and early 2020, the Nepalese government came under heavy criticism for failing to bring Nepalis back from Wuhan to China, where the coronavirus pandemic began. Beijing quickly imposed lockdowns in various cities, including Wuhan.
For weeks, the Nepalese government could not find a way to evacuate its citizens. After a belated response, Nepal on February 25, 2020 brought back 175 of its citizens, mostly students, from Wuhan.
Also during the Afghan crisis in August last year, the confusion persisted for days. There was no diplomatic presence. Accreditation to deal with Kabul business has been transferred to New Delhi from Islamabad. Nepal’s ambassador to India, Nilamber Acharya, had even presented his credentials in Afghanistan.
Nepal itself may have failed to carry out rescue operations in crisis-hit countries, but it has always received support from India and other friendly countries.
“Recent back-to-back cases in Afghanistan and Ukraine show that we should have good relations with major countries and humanitarian organizations,” said Ram Prasad Subedi, Chargé d’Affaires at the Nepalese Embassy in New Delhi, who coordinated both rescue efforts. “In some cases, we have also struggled because of Nepalese living illegally.”
According to Subedi, resources are essential, but good relations with immediate neighbors and powerful countries play an equally important role.
With regard to Nepalese in Ukraine, authorities claim that most Nepalese nationals have already left the country.
According to Khadka, the ambassador to Germany, 580 Nepalese nationals joined several European countries like Poland (466), Slovakia (87), Romania (28) and Hungary (8) on Saturday.
“Six Nepalese people who were rescued by the Indian government have arrived in Nepal,” Khadka said.
After the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the government had ordered Khadka to go to the Polish-Ukrainian border to take stock of the situation and provide support to Nepalese nationals who needed to be evacuated.
Mainali, the former undersecretary, says the government should follow its citizens to different countries as much as possible to make rescue missions more effective.
“We need a robust administrative system,” Mainali told the Post. “As long as we have this nonchalant approach and the attitude that the Nepalese will manage to flee, our people will continue to suffer when caught in a crisis.”