The Nepali restaurant is located in the richest country of the European Union, and its Facebook page is full of recommendations from guests lavishing effusive praise on its cuisine and service. The page also contains a post from its owner saying that the restaurant’s chefs and staff prepare all meals with great care so that guests leave with satisfaction and good memories. Instead migrants are victims of mistreatment and exploitation by their own relatives and friends in the heart of Europe, Nepali Times writes.
What the Facebook page does not say is that the chef and staff had been made to work more than 18 hours a day as virtual slaves with their bank accounts, and in some cases passports, in the hands of an abusive owner.
Luxembourg is Europe’s smallest country, and has the world’s highest GDP per capita. It is one of the founding members of the European Union, is one of its four capitals, and is also the seat of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Some of the restaurant’s regular customers could have been rich Europeans and those who worked on human rights. However, they were oblivious to the mistreatment and abuse of the restaurant’s Nepali staff by its Nepali owner.
“I arrived in Luxembourg in October 2015 with a work permit sent to me by the owner of the restaurant,” says Shyam from Baglung, who paid for his own air ticket. “I wanted to live a decent life and save enough to provide for my family. But what a disappointment it has been.”
In a series of phone calls from Luxembourg, Shyam spoke of chronic beatings, abuse, withholding of salary, and substandard living conditions. Unable to bear it any longer he and some other co-workers lodged a complaint with the Luxembourg police in July.
The case will now be further investigated by the Police Judiciaire, and based on its verdict the prosecutor’s office will decide whether there is enough evidence of human trafficking to file charges.
After several attempts to contact the restaurant owner, he finally responded via an email from his lawyer denying all accusations. He says he had neither mentally nor physically abused his staff, or forced them to work for free for 16 months or work extra hours.
‘All the claims made by my ex-employees are false. They might have received a better offer from competing business and hence they fled from the restaurant housing overnight leaving a resignation letter in my mailbox,’ he states in the email. ‘This is nothing but a stunt to defame my image and damage the reputation of my very well-established business.’
Luxembourg law does not permit naming of the restaurant and the owner, unless convicted, but Shyam’s story has been corroborated by two of his colleagues as well with depositions he made with the local Nepali community and the police.
When he arrived Shyam was given space above the restaurant to share with two other co-workers. The toilets were rudimentary, and they were allowed to take a bath only once a week and that too, very grudgingly.
The restaurant’s cook, Binod, left soon after Shyam arrived because he could not tolerate the injustice of the owner, who happened to be his relative.
Nepali Times tracked down Binod in Chitwan this week, and he confirmed that the owner was physically abusive and exploited his employees from Nepal. Binod is an experienced chef, having worked for 12 years in India and seven years in Qatar before spending €3,000 of his own savings to go to Luxembourg to work for his relative, who sent him a work permit.