Lives and livelihoods: On perils and the Indian emigrant  

India must have protocols in place to protect emigrants from conflicts 

February 29, 2024 12:20 am | Updated 07:29 am IST

In its first such confirmation, the government has conceded that Indians have been recruited by the Russian Army and positioned inside the Ukrainian border in land now under Russian control. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) says a “few” Indian nationals had signed up for support jobs, as military helpers and loaders, something the government actively discourages. It said that the Indian Embassy had pressed Russia for their “early discharge”, and denied accusations by the families that Indian officials had not been responsive. Despite evidence that dozens of Indians have joined the war, lured by online advertisements and middlemen promising lucrative jobs, the government failed to make any statement, but spoke only after a series of reports in The Hindu, that included news of the death of a man from Surat who was hit by a Ukrainian drone-operated missile. An early acceptance of the problem, and more awareness drives against those duping Indians may have deterred others from signing up and facing harm. The government must also investigate the networks of unscrupulous recruiters who charge high fees from Indians seeking jobs abroad without fully explaining the nature of work. The truth is that even after awareness of their menial roles in a war zone, they have few options. Having spent their family’s savings or availed of loans, the men cannot return without earning some of it back.

The government must review its procedures for countries in conflict, updating the list of 18 “Emigration Check Required” countries, so that the contracts of Indians travelling abroad for such work are vetted more thoroughly, they are advised better and also provided protection. Given that Nepal, Pakistan and Bangladesh face similar issues, it may help to seek more regional cooperation in thwarting the networks that market unsafe employment opportunities. The MEA’s pleas to “stay away from conflict” are clearly insufficient. It is equally disturbing that the government has green-lighted recruitment drives to other conflict zones, including, more recently, Israel, for Indian construction and elder-care workers to replace Palestinians who have been denied entry to the country since October 7. More broadly, the numerous cases of Indians travelling to dangerous zones internationally, or even undertaking arduous journeys as illegal immigrants, reflect the deep economic distress and job shortages in India. While there are few quick fixes to such entrenched economic issues, the government must evince more empathy for the situation many find themselves in, putting more comprehensive protocols in place for emigrants, and support structures for those in peril.

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