Indians in Kuwait and Gulf countries: A look at numbers

The Gulf Cooperation Council region contributes to about one-sixth of India’s total trade.

Updated - June 13, 2024 09:12 pm IST

Published - June 13, 2024 08:44 pm IST

Rescuers arrive at the site of a building that caught fire in Kuwait on Wednesday.

Rescuers arrive at the site of a building that caught fire in Kuwait on Wednesday. | Photo Credit: AP/PTI

The story so far: Around 40 Indians were killed in a massive fire that erupted in a building in Kuwait’s southern district of Al-Mangaf. A total of at least 49 migrant workers were killed in the fire that broke out in an apartment building in Al Ahmadi Governorate early on Wednesday. At least 50 other people were injured in the incident.

Also Read : Kuwait fire updates: Highlights on June 13

The Kerala government on Thursday announced ₹5 lakh ex gratia compensation to families of people from the State who died in the Kuwait fire tragedy and ₹1 lakh for those who were injured. Minister of State for External Affairs Kirti Vardhan Singh has reached Kuwait to oversee assistance to Indians injured in the accident.

Indians in Kuwait

Indians have a significant presence in Kuwait, and the two countries have historically enjoyed cordial relations. In fact, the Indian rupee was legal tender in Kuwait for over a century until 1961. Currently, almost a million NRIs live in Kuwait, making it the largest expatriate community in the country.

According to data collected by the Embassy of India in Kuwait, Indians make up 21% of Kuwait’s total population and 30% of its total workforce. The Gulf War in the early 1990s had a considerable impact on the Indian population in Kuwait, with over 1.7 lakh Indians requiring to be evacuated by sea and air (via Jordan) by the Government of India, but most of them gradually returned as conditions in the country improved. Palestinians made up the largest expatriate community in Kuwait before the liberation war, but their numbers dwindled and Indians overtook them.

From a manpower perspective, Kuwait is an important country for India. Yet, no strategic partnerships between India and Kuwait existed as of July 2023, according to Ausuf Sayeed, former Secretary (Consular, Passport, Visa and Overseas Indian Affairs).

“However, we are keen to elevate the relationship with Kuwait... we have been engaging with Kuwait and we have recently concluded the Foreign Office Consultations. Kuwait is a very important country from our manpower perspective,” Dr. Sayeed was quoted as saying in a parliamentary standing committee report.

India has also signed a number of bilateral agreements with Kuwait. Around 15 agreements/MOUs are under different stages of finalisation, the Embassy of India in Kuwait noted. The Bilateral Investment Promotion Agreement with Kuwait, signed with an initial tenure of 15 years, came into force on June 28, 2003, and expired on June 27, 2018.

What is the Gulf Cooperation Council?

GCC, or the Gulf Cooperation Council, is a group of six nations – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. The GCC was established in 1981 based on regional and cultural proximity with the aim to promote coordination, integration and inter-connection between member states.

Currently, the main source of revenue for GCC countries is oil exports.

Why are Indian communities in GCC countries important?

The Ministry of External Affairs’ Standing Committee Report on cooperation between India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) noted that the region is an important source of inward remittances to India. “…remittances from the NRIs form a very important dimension of our engagement and our economic development. NRIs, especially from the Gulf countries, have been very instrumental. The last figures for remittances abroad from the diaspora and the overall Indians have been more than $120 billion, which is a significant figure. It has been a jump from the previous figure of $87 billion, which was in 2021. In 2022, we saw more than $115 billion, which is there,” the report said. It also addressed Indians in the Gulf region as “very strong pillars for our economic development in the overall picture.”

The committee also noted that there is potential to further increase inward remittances and recommended that the MEA make diaspora-centric policy focused on the Gulf region for the welfare and protection of the Indian diaspora.

The GCC region contributes to about one-sixth of India’s total trade, the report said. In FY 2022-23, India’s trade with GCC countries stood at around $184 billion – an approximate raise of 20% from the previous year. The government is also discussing a Free Trade Agreement with the GCC.

The MEA also said that it is moving to a comprehensive relationship with the GCC countries in terms of energy cooperation by encouraging participation in India’s strategic petroleum reserves, negotiating long term gas supply arrangements, getting concessions in oilfields, and renewable energy cooperation.

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