Qatari emir in Nepal, expected to tackle migrant conditions and Nepali student held hostage by Hamas

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — The emir of Qatar landed in Nepal Tuesday on his first-ever visit to the South Asian country, after visiting Bangladesh and the Philippines, where improving migrant workers' conditions in the Gulf state and a Nepali student still held hostage by Hamas are expected to be on the agenda.

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani is set to meet Nepali dignitaries, including President Ram Chandra Poudyal and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal during his two-day visit.

Qatar hosts an estimated 400,000 Nepali workers, most in construction and manual labor. Concerns about working in extreme heat — that could reach over 40 C (104 F) — inadequate living facilities and abuse have risen in recent years.

New York-based Human Rights Watch called on Qatar, Nepal and Bangladesh in a statement Sunday to prioritize labor protection for migrant workers during the emir's visit.

“It is important ... to go beyond exchanging diplomatic pleasantries over their longstanding labor ties and seize this moment to publicly commit to concrete, enforceable protections that address the serious abuses that migrant workers in Qatar continue to face,” the statement quoted Michael Page, the agency’s deputy Middle East and North Africa director, as saying.

The statement added that while Qatar-based jobs have allowed migrant workers “to send remittances back home to their families,” many experience abuse, including “wage theft, contract violations, and chronic illness linked to unsafe working conditions.”

Nepali officials are also likely to seek Al Thani's help in freeing a local, Bipin Joshi, who is held hostage by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Joshi was among 17 Nepali students studying agriculture in Alumim kibbutz, near the Gaza Strip, when Hamas attacked Southern Israel on Oct.7. Ten of the students were killed, six injured and Joshi was held captive.

Though there has been no information on his condition or whereabouts, Nepali officials said they believed he was still alive.

Hamas’ sudden attack in October killed 1,200 people and some 250 others hostage were taken hostage. This has sparked a war that has so far killed more than 34,000 Palestinians in Gaza, at least two-thirds of them women and children, according to the local health ministry.

Qatar has been a key intermediary throughout the war in Gaza. It, along with the U.S. and Egypt, was instrumental in helping negotiate a brief halt to the fighting in November that led to the release of dozens of hostages.

A spokesman for Qatar’s Foreign Ministry said Tuesday his country was undergoing an assessment of its role in mediating talks between Israel and Hamas over a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip. He also said discussions were ongoing about Hamas’ presence in Qatar where the militant group has had a political office in the capital, Doha, for years.

France and Qatar mediated a deal in January for the shipment of medicine for the dozens of hostages held captive by Hamas.