Missing Migrants of Nepal

Thousands of families and relatives of the missing persons all over the world continue to wait for their loved ones who have disappeared in course of armed conflict, disasters, migration or other events. They continue to live in ambiguity due to lack of accurate information. The ambiguous loss is one of the most painful, difficult loss to deal with as it is unclear and without closure.


Having worked with families of missing persons (during armed conflict: 1996-2006) in a comprehensive psychosocial program supported by International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), I am thoughtful even more on this day about them and both their suffering and strength of facing such adversity. Nepal government has been trying to address the issues of families of missing in conflict through the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) while there has been little efforts made in search for missing migrants and helping their families. ICRC and Nepal Red Cross Society (NRCS) jointly have been trying to help such families through its tracing and restoring family links (RFL) activities. It is hard to estimate the number of missing migrants because little records are available.

In recent years, one of the major attempts to help Nepali migrants has been Safer Migration Project (SaMi), a bilateral initiative of the Governments of Nepal and Switzerland. HELVETAS Nepal and the Ministry of Labour and Employment are implementing the project at the district level in over 19 districts through local NGOs and government agencies. SaMi aims to promote safer and beneficial migration by helping migrants to be informed, skilled and safer in context of foreign employment. My interaction with colleagues and local people recently in Saptari and Dhading have indicated that SaMi project could produce some estimate of missing migrants that have been reported by the families in the Information and counseling centers (ICC).

Ms. Sanu Maya Aryal is a psychosocial counselor working in Chandrajyoti Integrated Development Society (CIDS) for Safer Migration (SaMi) project supported by Helvatas. She highlights the phenomenon of missing cases among migrant workers in Dhading district. In the last two years, they have helped over 411 migrants/their families in a comprehensive manner for safer migration. Out of 411, they have recorded 60 cases of still missing migrants and 14 cases have been solved which were initially recorded as missing.  The families are completely unaware of whereabouts of their loved ones who have gone for foreign employment. She herself is familiar with an agony of having a missing family member as her father had disappeared during an armed conflict.

Ms. Aryal says, “Definitely this issue of missing migrants has not received an adequate attention on the national level, I can say there are many unreported cases of missing migrants. I have been to places in Dhading where people do not speak Nepali, are illiterate and so poor (lack resources) that they cannot report the case of disappearance to the authorities or NGOs. One of the major challenges while coming across such cases is lack of proper documents with the family. They show us the photograph of a person which is like 7-8 years old and creates difficult for identification of the person.”

She recalls, “ It is a very challenging task to search for missing migrants. And sometimes, even when the person is helped to reestablish family relations, an unfortunate event can take place. It is not a happy ending. There was one case in which a female migrant had lost contact with family for over 5 years. The family reported her as missing and after much efforts, she was rescued back to Nepal. She had suffered as housemaid and had been traumatized. Upon her return, she was further traumatized when she came to know that her husband had remarried and she had little means to support her two children. She ultimately committed suicide.”


Migration is one of the major national issues with migrant population contributing to over one third of national GDP through remittance. Nepal is one of the countries with highly remittance-dependent economy in the world. It has been major force in improving economic conditions of majority of Nepali despite decades of political instability and pace of extremely slow development. It is important to note that it brought about many significant economic and social changes. The government of Nepal, concerned departments and related agencies should pay proper attention to migrants in general and also to the issue of missing migrants and their families.

Expressing solidarity with families of missing persons (in conflict and migration) on International Day of the Disappeared.



4 years 4 months


Finally, after 4 years 4 months, the time has come for me to close this circle and move on for the new one. I am very content to have my work successfully completed and I am looking forward for my new mission from next month.

Even before I joined ICRC, I was aware about the issue of disappearance in Nepal and the psychosocial aspects related to the families of the missing. In 2009, I had worked in a research project related to Missing persons and their families in Surkhet and I wrote about it on the occasion of Day of the Disappeared in 2010.

In 2012, when I joined ICRC, the pilot phase was coming to closure, and the first and second expansions were already rolling on. I worked for the first expansion districts covering three districts of Kathmandu Valley.


At the same time, we were also preparing for the launch of third expansion in 10 districts, I was engaged in assessment and the implementation of program in Dhading and Nuwakot in partnership with Nepal Red Cross Society district chapters.


In 2014, we finally rolled out the final/fourth expansion of the program, I was managing the program in Kavre, Sindhupalchwok and Ramechhap. I wrote about my experience after two years here.


After earthquakes in 2015, our team were engaged for psychological first aid response in affected districts both by training Red Cross Volunteers as well as providing services in the community.


In 2015, I was supported for my participation in 11th Mental Health in Complex Emergencies (MHCE) course, organized by Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA), Fordham University in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Thanks to ICRC for that support.

Finally, this year, we have completed the program successfully and produced the dissemination materials. And at the last moment, we also had an opportunity to provide an brief orientation on psychosocial support for the staff of Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons of Nepal and we are hopeful they will consider the importance of psychosocial aspects while helping the families of the missing in their future work.

I would like to dedicate this photo book to my ICRC colleagues and working team (NRCS district focal persons, accompaniers, and program supervisors): ICRC-photo-memoirs.compressed and also would like to thank them all for their support and cooperation.


Hateymalo (2010-16)

Public Resources in one place

md_cover-misssing-family-report-2009 2009 – Families of missing persons in Nepal: a study of their needs PDF: families-of-missing-persons-nepal-report

This assessment conducted by Simon Robbins was a stepping stone for the launch of Hateymalo program in Nepal.


2010 – Hateymalo: Accompanying families of the missing in Nepal. Piloted in Bardiya by Bhava Poudyal, Nepalese Psychologist and the team of ICRC colleagues which expanded to altogether 46 districts of Nepal in successive four phases.


2013 – Release of Don’t go so far documentary. Directed by Arnaud Galent.

2016 – Completion of the program & Final Dissemination Products (Reports , Documentaries & Photobook). In collaboration of Yubaraj Adhikari, Rupa Chaudhary, Bishnu Waiba, Juthi Ram Chaudhari, Kalu Ram Chaudhari, Purna Shova Maharjan, Bina Chaudhary, Sujen Man Maharjan and ICRC colleagues of various departments, Nepal Red Cross Society district chapters and local NGOs.


hateymalo_accompaniment_report (ENGLISH),  hateymalo_accompaniment_report_in_nepali (NEPALI),

commemorating_the_missing (photobook)




Dunant and Freud


Henry Dunant, the father of Red Cross movement and Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis are two great personalities who have inspired millions of people around the world. Unlike what the title of this post might look like, this is not the biographies or comparisons of two renowned persons in their respective fields of humanitarian action and human psychology, it is about my personal reflection regarding my work in ICRC and prior experience as a student of psychology. I picked it up as this title often came in my mind whenever I visited National Red Cross Society offices around the country which again reminded me of taking up psychology textbooks to see the pictures of Freud as a student.


Today I have completed the 2 years of service in ICRC Nepal as a field officer for Hateymalo program, comprehensive psychosocial support for the families of Missing in Nepal. It has been quite some time, time has gone so fast, everyday felt similar and just the routine at times but now when I look back I notice some many changes in my own life and of others with whom and for whom I have worked. I feel proud that the period of hard work has been worthy though I have mixed emotions regarding certain things.

As a student of psychology, I have worked and collaborated with a number of researchers from international universities since 2006. It was back in 2012, I was on a research trip to Taplejung to help a student of Conflict and Human Rights from Utrecht University, the Netherlands. Due to several reasons, the research project had to be dropped and we had to return back from the field. Upon returning, he decided to do his thesis on the different topic and then, we took our separate ways forward. Just after that, I received a message from Jamuna Maharjan Shrestha di (senior Nepali counselor) informing me about the vacancy in the ICRC and encouraged me to apply for it. I looked over the advertisement and I had an ‘aha’ feeling and thought I should definitely give it a try as it was vacancy for the comprehensive psychosocial program supporting the families of missing in Nepal. In 2009, I had worked with another Dutch student from Queen Margaret University, UK on the research topic ‘Psychosocial challenges and Coping Mechanisms of Families of the Disappeared in Surkhet, Nepal’. We had worked in Surkhet district for over three weeks doing field work, visiting families and exploring about their psychosocial wellbeing. They clearly were in need of psychosocial support and I wished so much that I could help them. I had hoped that some kind of intervention would result for the families from the research, and I felt bad as I knew it would not happen overnight as it takes quite some time to transform research into program. That is how I felt motivated to apply for work in ICRC. I had already been working in other thematic areas of political violence like use of child soldiers and other aspects of armed conflict in Nepal. I then requested my senior collaborator and mentor Brandon Kohrt for the recommendation letter. It proved to be the stepping stone in the process. I would like to thank Jamuna didi and Brandon for their support once again at this moment. The rest is the history now. As I look back I see the connecting dots and forming the line of my career. Coming back from Taplejung proved to be good coincidence. Had I been there for two months as we had planned initially, it would have been completely different story now and I surely would not have been writing this. You might have been reading completely different post right now which would be fascinating to imagine!


Two years in a program, I have worked through different phases with different people. I am glad to see the people with whom I have worked grow, become skilled and competent over time. That gives a sense of satisfaction and I have always emphasized that we are on the journey of learning and providing service to the families at the same time. But it has not been all rosy along the way; I have encountered a number of thorns and obstacles too which have taught important lessons. I have experienced competition, deceit, mistrust and lack of cooperation at times while enjoying friendship, sharing of knowledge, cooperation most of the times. I am also very happy to share that ICRC has started Hateymalo program in Surkhet district as well since 2013 for the families of missing.

Let me go back to being the student of psychology now that is how Freud comes in for this post. He is the rock star in field of psychology even today. He is one of the greatest psychologists in the history of psychology. In the survey that I had conducted in 2009 among university and college students, he topped the list of favorite psychologists. He is an inspiration to many but we know he focused too much upon the negativity and problems of human psychology. Now, after finishing my MA in psychology, I firmly believe we need to balance that perspective and we have to take side by side the study of psychological well-being too (which is taking place but is often overshadowed by focus upon problems). The teachings of Buddha, mindfulness and many scientific studies being undertaken (popular as positive psychology) are useful for to learn about positive aspects of human well-being and mental health.


Mental health: Healing the hidden scars

Mental health: Healing the hidden scars

This feature recently published in ICRC website reports about the Mental Health and Psychosocial support programs around the world to recognize the psychological impact of armed conflict and violence, and to help the victims cope and rebuild their lives.

Also includes Nepal program which the ICRC launched the Hateymalo (joining hands together) accompaniment programme in 2010 to help families cope with the uncertainty and to rebuild bonds within communities. The program has already reached out to families of missing in twenty six districts (ten phased out and sixteen ongoing) and still more to reach in seventeen districts this year.