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Mystery of 'Missing' Nepalis in Alabama

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Mystery of ‘missing’ Nepalis in Alabama

By Kashis Das Shrestha

North Alabama, USA, Feb 7 - On 30 January, the quiet conservative city of Huntsville was abuzz with news many residents found troubling. 100-150 'alien' workers from Nepal had "disappeared" with "thousands of dollars" worth of "furniture" from apartments they had rented. The workers had been hired under temporary working visas by Cinram, a Canadian company, at the Huntsville plant. The news of their flight was broken by WAAY-TV, a local station, saying, "The group of workers from Nepal simply disappeared without any warning, creating a potential security risk". The story also appeared on its website, and East of Huntsville, a local blog, followed suit with a post titled "What's Going On At Cinram?". The post repeats details reported by News Channel 19's Barry Hiett: "Taking not only their own belongings from their Huntsville apartments, it appears many of them have also made off with the furnishings provided with their apartments. By some estimates as much

as $200,000 worth of furniture."

Largely based on the report by Associated Press, Nepal's daily Kantipur and The Kathmandu Post published the story on the same day. Another website, Nepali Post, also followed with a similar report, and it didn't take long before the national American media turned its attention toward the story. By 2 February, CNN had picked it up, when Lou Dobbs equated the Nepali flag with "visa violation," and the ultra-conservative, infamous Rush Limbaugh made it a talking point on his radio show.

"Our families are really worried because they have no idea what has happened here," one of the Nepali workers who is still working at Cinram told us. "The media so far hasn't done us justice. We see the landlord's claims being broadcast, but we haven't been represented fairly."

The facts can be clearly explained in at least two matters: first, all Nepalis involved had been given an official document by the employment agency, Ambassador Personnel, stating they could leave the job any time they wanted to; the H-2B visas on which the Nepali workers came to the United States are still valid for several more months (all of them were validated for a minimum of seven months), and as

stated, they were under no contract to stay with the job at Cinram.

Second, there had never been thousands of dollars worth of furniture to steal in the first place. The apartments are operated by a company called Total Management Services, and are furnished with old couches and beds. The furniture consists of no more than plastic tables and chairs, the kind that are more commonly used in the garden. Most rooms also come with old television sets, and the landlords had promised to give the Nepali tenants a DVD player per apartment if they paid their rents on the first of every month. "We moved furniture around from one room to the other, but we haven't stolen anything," said one of the workers requesting anonymity.

One thing that is clear amongst the 40 or so Nepalis workers left, from the original lot of about 240, is that each is now stricken with paranoia and embarrassment. "It was very humiliating for us to go to work when the media reported that we were thieves," said a worker. "And now, even though we had plans to leave Cinram after some time, for whatever reason, we were worried that we would be caught."

Another mistake in the reports that have so far come out of Huntsville is the impression that the 100 or so Nepali workers walked out en masse. In reality, it appears that Nepali workers had been trickling out of Huntsville for weeks now. In fact, some never even made it here to begin with, immediately seeking out other options after arriving in the United States via JFK airport in New York. And this issue would have never been publicized if not for the landlords' accusation of theft. "I think the landlords got upset with us because they had planned to take our rent money for seven months, but that dream got shattered when they realized we were leaving," another young worker from Myagdi, Nepal, said. "But the thing is, we don't want to fight with these people, because we can't. And we don't want to start any trouble."

The Nepali workers also claim that even after signing the lease they weren't briefed, and none of them to this day have been given a copy. Only after Nepalis demanded to know what the process was to leave the apartment, they declared a month's notice was a must. However, they also told the Nepalis that they would not be given a release form or any document stating that they had left following due process. "Now I have seen others-Jamaicans, Hispanics-leaving with no notice of any kind only after a week, or even a few days of having moved in. How come that wasn't a problem for the landlord?" asks one worker, also requesting anonymity, fearing reprisal. "We are just so worried and scared of what will happen to us, and how people will view Nepali workers from now on because of the reports that accuse us of being thieves," said another.

The fairest report yet published came today in the Sunday Edition of The Huntsville Times. The article was written by Challen Stephens, who with Combrian Lawson had written an article about Cinram's hiring practices and the arrival of Nepali workers on 16 November last year for the same paper. Today's article gives ample space to the Nepali side of the story, explaining the right of the workers to leave any time they wish and how many of those that have left have already found jobs in other American cities. "We are really glad that finally someone has explained the situation after talking to us," a relieved worker said after carefully reading the article. "But I feel that a lot of damage has already been done."

WAAY-TV is now hoping to meet with some of the remaining three dozen or so Nepalis, to hear and broadcast their side of their story, four days after the original report.

(Courtesy: samudaya.org)

Posted on: 2008-02-06 20:54:08 (Server Time)




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