In the past fortnight, domestic and industrial workers in Kuwait, the majority of whom are from Kerala, have been bearing the brunt of an intensive crackdown.
“There is serious discussion going on in the government level about this issue. We have been informed that the checking has been severe in the past two weeks. They are looking for unauthorised people who are staying after expiry of visa. The main target is domestic workers,” P.M.A. Salam, chairman of the Kerala Non-Resident Keralites’ Welfare Board told The Hindu on Saturday.
But giving a firsthand description of what is going on in the country is Hassan Thikkodi, a former employee with Kuwait Airways, who visited the country just two weeks back.
“I saw a lot of checking by the Traffic Department on the roads. They would stop you and ask for your civil identity cards issued by the local public authority. They are checking whether the owner of the car and the licence holder are the same. Even for small traffic violations they take you to the police station and start the deportation process,” he said.
Mr. Thikkodi, who had worked in Kuwait for 35 years before he settled down in Kozhikode three years ago, described the intensity of the “checking” as “shocking”.
“Recent developments are shocking for people like me who have worked there for years. It is not just traffic checks, but Labour Ministry officials have also visited industrial work sites and complexes for checking migrant workers’ civil IDs. They visited nine Indian schools to check the visa status of teachers. Most of the employed are housewives,” he said.
“The basic thing they are looking for is whether you are working under your sponsor or not. As of now, two kinds of worker categories are being checked – domestic servants and industrial workers,” Attakoya Pallikandy, chairman of the Indo-Arab Confederation Council, said.
In the country summary in the ‘World Report 2012 - Kuwait’ by Human Rights Watch, an independent and global human rights watch body, it is written that the “major barrier to redressing labour abuses is the kafala (sponsorship) system, which ties a migrant worker’s legal residence to a ‘sponsoring’ employer. Migrant workers who have worked for their sponsor less than three years can only transfer with their sponsor’s consent (migrant domestic workers always require consent). If a worker leaves their sponsoring employer, including when fleeing abuse, the employer must register the worker as ‘absconding’. This can lead to detention and deportation”.
To the question of how traffic violations like crossing a red light can lead to deportation, Mr. Thikkodi said the “basic idea is to change the demographic pattern. They say it is alarming. The ratio of migrant population to the natives is 62:38. Sixty percent of the foreigners are from Kerala”.
But he says there are also ongoing debates in political circles in the country about this mode of checking amounting to human rights violation.
“This crackdown is an after-effect of a strong and concerted drive for nationalisation. The checking has been there for sometime but the situation has just got worse in the past two weeks,” Mr. Pallikandy said.