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Sewing a New Future in Nepal

Nepali returnee in her costume rental shop established with support from ERRIN reintegration programme © Joanna Nahorska / Caritas Nepal
The story of Prisca and Raaj* is representative of a struggle that many returnee families face when they come back to their home country.

“When we came back, two of our children, then 2 and 5, refused to speak Nepali or Newari**. They would only speak English,” the couple recall.

Surrounded colourful fabric rolls, jewellery, beads and glitter, we sit on the floor of a small flat in Kalimati, neighbourhood of Kathmandu. While Prisca and Raaj were still abroad, Prisca’s sister opened a costume rental shop here. Years later, the enterprise became a starting point for the couple upon their return from the UK.

Kiss and fly

“I went there to study,” Prisca remembering her first steps in London back in 2009. “I hoped that a post-graduate diploma in business management would allow me to find a better job in Nepal.”

Her eldest daughter, Prima, was only six years old when Prisca quit teaching and headed to the UK to seek a better future. She kissed her child and husband goodbye and left into the unknown. “We invested a lot in this trip. Just my tuition fees for the first year cost four and a half thousand pounds (around € 5.000),” she recalls.

However, after only 15 days in the country, Prisca learnt that her college’s licence to accept non-EU students had been withdrawn.

“I panicked. I knew I might lose my right to stay in the country, but the university management kept on repeating that the licence would be back soon.” Those with valid visas had 60 days to find another university. Prisca tried to go through three colleges to remain in the country, meanwhile bringing in her husband as a dependent. Their daughter stayed in Kathmandu with her grandparents; little did they know then that the next time they see her would be eight years later.

Fighting to stay

“In 2010 we filed an official application for visa prolongation to stay in the country legally. In the end, the process took five years marked by countless courts, lawyers and hearings.”

In the meantime, two of their younger children, Eric and Eva, were born.

“We were not happy in the UK,” explains Raaj. “We had no family networks there, no support to help us pay our debts. But despite everything, we decided to keep fighting to stay.”

They made several attempts to fly their eldest daughter in, even as a part of a Nepali dance troop, but it proved impossible: “We were just a family of illegal migrants.”

Prisca continued working illegally as a nanny, while Raaj stayed at home with the kids. “Somebody suggested that we should apply for asylum, using the argument of the Nepalese Civil War, but I did not want to go down this way. This would involve too many lies,” says Prisca. This is when they received a letter saying that our application had been rejected. There was no other choice but to go back.

The couple learnt about the opportunity to seek return and reintegration assistance via the ERRIN programme from the Home Office, and decided to apply. With all their life savings lost, the support was invaluable.

Starting anew

All the formalities and travel tickets were arranged for them. “Thanks to the project, it all went quite smoothly,” recalls Prisca. “We landed in Kathmandu on 28 February 2018, just over a year ago!”

But everything was different upon their return: “Things had changed, suddenly everything was expensive and we had no idea what to do.”

Under ERRIN, Caritas International Belgium (CIB) is the contracted service provider for Nepal. CIB works with Caritas Nepal as local service delivery partner. It was the staff from Caritas Nepal who helped the family get back on their feet and advised on how to invest their reintegration sum of €2.000.

© Joanna Nahorska / Caritas Nepal

The business – a costume rental shop offering traditional outfits of different Nepali ethnic groups – had already been operational for six years when the family came back to Nepal. Instead of opening a new enterprise, they decided to invest the reintegration package in the shop. The contribution allowed them to expand the premises, hire two assistants and upgrade the quality of the products. With the income from the costume business, Prisca was able to return to teaching. Raaj – an IT technician by training – stays at home with kids and helps to manage the place.

“But we are in a better place now, and thanks to the reintegration support, we could make a new start here.”

“If we hadn’t gone to the UK, we could have achieved so many things here and be in a totally different place now. But we did it for our children, thinking they would have a better future there.”

The return proved particularly difficult for their younger kids, who still cannot fully understand the complete change of the landscape: “Our kids miss McDonald’s and their friends, and keep asking when we will get back to London.

“But we are in a better place now, and thanks to the reintegration support, we could make a new start here.”

This story has been reproduced courtesy of Joanna Nahorska / Caritas Nepal

*Names changed to protect the beneficiaries’ identity.

**A language spoken by the Newar people, an ethnic group inhabiting Nepal, India and Bhutan.

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