By Moiz Mannan
Provincial governments in India and some non-resident Indian philanthropists are increasingly pitching in into the effort of ensuring the welfare of the most vulnerable among Indians working on foreign soil. Even Amnesty International has launched an initiative in this direction.
We have discussed earlier in this space how the central government of India has fallen short of adequate measures to ensure the safety and well-being of blue collar Indian workers abroad, particularly in the Gulf.
The severe fallout of the Saudi workforce regularization drive last year and the ongoing crisis in Iraq have exposed the ill-preparedness of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) as well as the Ministry of Overseas Indians Affairs (MOIA). Thousands are still stranded, facing an uncertain future, and hundreds have landed home with an equally bleak outlook.
States like Kerala, Gujarat and Punjab already have active independent departments in their state governments to take care of NRI affairs. A few days back, Uttar Pradesh became the fourth Indian state to have a department dedicated to the diaspora.
The initial offerings of the new department are likely to include a 24-hour call center and a dedicated website to address any queries and grievances, offer legal support to NRIs wherever necessary, investment counselling as well as details of all on-going projects or services where the NRIs may invest, verification services where the state government will run background security checks to ensure ‘safe’ investments and additional security cover to NRIs. The Samajwadi Party government is also likely to issue unique ID numbers and UP NRI cards to all overseas workers who register with the state government.
Looking at the repeated labour crises in the Gulf, the Kerala government, which already has a separate department for NRIs called NORKA, has established a Pravasi Legal Aid Cell (PLAC).
This unit of NORKA will make legal help, advice and representation available to NRKs who are imprisoned for no wilful default, in the GCC nations. It will also offer travel assistance to women workers to find asylum under the aegis of the Embassy. According to media reports, the state government has allotted Rs. 40m for the functioning of the cell.
Meanwhile, there are reports of several NRI business groups, individuals as well as organizations who have offered help in the case of distressed workers in Iraq. While, the Kerala government is considering rehabilitating some of the displaced nurses in health facilities it runs, some private citizens have also assured them jobs and financial assistance.
For instance, the Doha-based Behzad Group of Companies, led by C K Menon, offered a cash assistance of Rs 300,000 to the 46 nurses from Tikrit to clear their liabilities. Keralite philathropists from the UAE and Oman have also disbursed cash assistance or offered jobs in hospitals run by them in India and in the GCC region.
Some of the Gulf-based groups have also offered to train them for appearing for employment tests in their hospitals at their expenses. They will also bear all the expenses for their travel for writing the tests and joining the jobs. It was at the initiative of the Kerala government that these groups came together to discuss the rehabilitation of the Iraq returnees.
Another non-government initiative has come from Amnesty International India which has teamed up with a leading money exchange house in the UAE to impart information and training to migrant workers about their rights under Indian and international law, legally authorised channels for migration, pre-departure training programmes, and the risks of irregular migration. The workers will be equipped with a safe migration booklet, pamphlet and a toll free telephone number 1800-200-1303.
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), nearly 600,000 workers in West Asia , a large number of whom are Indian, are “victims of forced labour, trapped in jobs into which they have been coerced and deceived, and which they cannot leave.”