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Across the gulf: On stranded Indian workers

India must do all it can to help the migrant workers stranded in West Asia

April 17, 2020 12:15 am | Updated 01:37 am IST

Around eight million people in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries constitute a unique cohort among Indian diaspora communities around the world. Around 50% of them are unskilled and another 30% are semi-skilled. Only a small minority of 20% of them are skilled and lucratively employed, but all these migrant workers together form the backbone of India’s ties with the region. Their contribution of nearly 40% of the total foreign exchange remittances to India is critical to its economy. Their labour is vital for the GCC economy. With no option of assimilation into their host countries, their link to the home country remains intact, unlike Indian immigrants to the West. The vast majority of them who are on subsistence wages are facing a tough situation in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic . From the little information available, it appears that Indians are badly hit by the disease . Living and working conditions make it extremely difficult for them to practise social distancing or get treatment if infected. Many of them suffer from preexisting medical conditions and are used to procuring medicines from India, which is now impossible. Vast sectors of the economy are shut, rendering many of them jobless. Thousands are without documentation. Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha being important transits for international travel, thousands of Indian travellers are also stuck in the region.

India cannot abandon them to their helpless fate. It must work closely with governments of the region to bring them succour. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has nurtured good relations with all rulers of the region but the ongoing crisis is testing the endurance of India’s ties with some of the GCC countries. The UAE government has said it might revise current partnerships concerning labour relations with nations refusing to cooperate with measures to repatriate private sector expatriates who wish to return home. The country’s ambassador to India Ahmed Al Banna has promised only those who are tested negative for the virus would be repatriated. Some of these migrants want to be evacuated, while many might want to remain where they are. Pinarayi Vijayan, the Chief Minister of Kerala which is home to more than two million Indian immigrants in the Gulf, has said the State is prepared to receive returnees and provide them care. Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Punjab have a significant number of people in the Gulf. The Centre must take the initiative to bring together State governments, and work out arrangements with national governments in the region in a manner acceptable to all. It will certainly take some effort to arrive at what is doable and desirable at this juncture, but there is no excuse for not doing that. That is the least India can do for these people whose search for a livelihood has done the country so much good.

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