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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2039

Middle East No More Attractive Job Market

By Atul Cowshish - Syndicate Features

Indian nurses and workers who were able to return home safely from the bloody civil strife in Iraq and nearby areas have reportedly said they would ‘never’ return to the country.

Their bitterness is understandable because most of them were in the midst of or close to the areas of gun battles, tank fire and aerial bombardment and must have been saying their prayers 24x7. Even if they were not ‘harmed’ the experience must have been nightmarish.

It remains to be seen if the Indians who worked in Iraq would ‘never’ return there because the idea of finding a job abroad still appeals to many compatriots. The present uncertainty, many would hope, would end one day and Iraq may be able to welcome foreign workers as it did in the past. There is, however, also a danger that Iraq may be a completely transformed society where outsiders would not feel welcomed as they did in the past.

Looking farther in the region it would be clear that the uncertainty and civil strife that prevails in Iraq is not exclusive to that country. But it will also be seen job opportunities in countries that have remained immune to conflicts do not have the same strong appeal that they had in the past. Those heading for ‘peaceful’ countries in the region face problems of a different kind-- both before and during their employment, which make many of them, rue the decision to work in these countries.

It is difficult to give all credit for the rescue of Indians trapped in Iraq to one agency or organization—the government of India, the state governments, the government of Iraq, the Indian diplomats et al. Media reports have hinted that an important role in the operation was played by some rich and influential NRIs. Time for credit or discredit will come when all the Indians are brought home safe.

The trying time faced by Indians in Iraq should serve to remind us about the hard stories of thousands of Indian workers in the Gulf and adjoining Arabic-speaking region even though ‘war’ may not have affected them. More and more stories have been appearing in the media about the miseries faced by Indian workers in these countries. The stories of how the Indian workers bound for the ‘Gulf’ (a name commonly used for most countries in the Middle East) are exploited, both here in India and abroad, have been circulating for long but there seems to be no effective mechanism to stop that.

It will be noticed that the area of conflict in the Middle East has been spreading rapidly over the last two or three years. What was once hailed as ‘Arab Spring’ now resembles a nightmare. It needs to be remembered that most of these areas in the Arabic-speaking world, when under various types of ‘dictators’, were considered happy hunting grounds for Indian job-seekers; perhaps not anymore.

The attraction for ‘Gulf’ jobs, especially among the unskilled and semi-skilled workers, was always a bit if a myth because most of them would discover that there was a lot of difference between what was promised by way of salaries and the nature of job and the reality they faced upon landing in a foreign country. It was not always true but there were always stories of how the Indian worker was exploited all the way—from the moment he applied for a job in the ‘Gulf’, to his travails in getting a passport and work permit or visa, disputes over remunerations and his near ‘bonded’ status. Those who held white collar jobs generally did not face those problems.

A common deception played upon the Indian workers is that they eventually find themselves working in a place different from what they were told at home. The very nature of the promised job may turn out to be different and the country of employment may not be a ‘Gulf’ state but a strife-stricken country like Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan.

The Emigration Act, 1983, which is supposed to safeguard the interests of the Indian workers in a foreign country, does not seem to have lived up to its expectation. Complaints under the provisions of this act have not helped the Indian worker abroad. Indian workers seeking employment abroad may be faulted for paying hefty sums to ‘agents’. But it also indicates that despite all the claims, getting a passport is still full of hassles for many, especially the illiterate and the semi-literates.

The foreign-bound workers are made to pay hefty sums for not only getting a passport but also for arranging the visa/working permit. Most of these workers come from impoverished families and have a harrowing time raising the money required. The fleecing ‘agents’ are rarely booked for their illegal activities. The astonishing thing is that these ‘agents’ ply their trade quite openly, in commercial districts of towns and cities.

It sounds anachronistic that in today’s world it is possible for an employer to keep his employee as a virtual bonded labour. That is what many Indian workers in the ‘Gulf’ region report. When they land in the promised El Dorado their passports are immediately ‘confiscated’ by their employer so that they do not escape even when they are continuously ill-treated. Their human rights are clearly violated but over the years the situation has remained unchanged.

India has traditionally enjoyed good relations with almost all Arab-speaking countries and there is a strong presence of the Indian Diaspora in the Gulf countries. The remittances from these countries constitute a significance part of our foreign reserves. It is time the government of India took up the problems faced by the Indians working abroad, including the problems created for them by the fleecing ‘agents’ in India.

- Asian Tribune -

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