Conference stressed on the need to address the issues of Indian Gulf Migrants

Published Date:   Sunday, Oct 12, 2014

A conference on ‘Asianisation of Migrant Workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council Countries: Emerging trends, future prospects and strategic implications’ was held on 9-10 October, 2014, Thursday-Friday at the Seminar Room, Library Building in the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library. The conference was organised by Nehru Memorial Museum and Library in association with Dr. Ginu Zacharia Oommen, NMML and Prof. Irudaya Rajan, Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvanthapuram, Kerala. The two-day conference touched upon many important issues, trends and future prospects of the Indian emigrants in Gulf countries. The eminent speakers, experts and the scholars of Diaspora and international migration were the participants of this conference.

The conference was inaugurated with the welcome speech and introductory session by Prof. Mahesh Rangrajan, NMML. Prof. Rangarajan introduced the issues and challenges of the migration to the Gulf countries in current context. Prof. S. Irudaya Rajan has delivered the inaugural speech at the venue. He talked about the issues, trends and future prospects of the Asianisation of migrant workers in the GCC countries. He underlined the instances of the Kerala migration to the Gulf countries and shared the experiences of the problems and situations faced by the poor Kerala migrants in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar, Iraq, Kuwait and Dubai etc. He also highlighted the increasing migration to the Gulf countries from the Uttar Pradesh, Northern region, India. Prof. Rajan emphasised that the Saudi Arabia is the emerging state for Indian migrant workers among all GCC countries. Among total emigrants from India, around 90% are of the Kerala migrants move to the Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates only. Prof. Rajan said that India is the leading country in receiving the highest remittance from abroad. However, the conditions of the Indian emigrants are pathetic, ignoring and under-representing in the GCC countries. He has raised the serious issue of the fixing oil-price in GCC countries but there is no serious step has been taken for fixing the wage-rate of the emigrant workers in GCC countries. This shows that the oil is more important than the human beings for the states. In reference to the home-country, India, he criticised the role of state blaming the ignorant attitude towards the Indian emigrants but the major focus is on money-making from migration.

The first day of the conference was divided into six sessions. Here are some highlights of the papers. The first paper was based on the panel study of internal and international migration by South Indians by Dr. Ganesh Seshan, George Town University, Qatar. The paper dealt with the social impacts of the internal and international migration on the back home i.e.; Kerala. It dealt with the consumption and investment pattern of the back home people of the migrants. The speaker talked about the push and pulls factors of the migration to the Gulf countries. He also highlighted the decision-making in the process of the migration.

Second paper was based on the Bangladeshi Labour Migration to the Gulf countries by Prof. Rita Afsar, University of Western Australia, Australia. She discussed the nature and characteristics of the Bangladeshi migrants in the Gulf countries that they are transient, contractual and disposable foreign workforce. She  talked about the ‘Bhalo Visa’ scheme in Bangladeshi emigrant workers. ‘Bhalo Visa’ implies that the visa which provide employment and higher opportunities of the income to the Bangladeshi emigrants. It supposed to bring prosperity to the lives of these emigrant workers.

The third paper was focused on the gender, mobility and transnational flows of women domestic workers from Kerala to UAE by Dr Bindhu lakshmi P., Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. She raised some of the sensitive issue such as the sexual violence of the poor and uneducated Indian female domestic workers in the Gulf countries. She discussed about the lack of human rights and women-safety in these countries under-valued their economic as well as social contribution of these domestic workers in these economies. She criticized the role of home-land in securing the women’s rights in their own country as well as host-country.

The fourth paper was basically dealt with the human rights of the Indian migrant workers in the Gulf which was presented by Dr. Bijulal M. V., Mahatma Gandhi University, Kottyam, Kerala. He discussed the topic under the two broader framework; first, methodological nationalism and second, human rights issues. He discussed cases of the violence, murder and terror with the emigrants in these countries. The Indian emigrant workers are generally unaware about the legal contracts for the employment under which they were contracted and therefore, due to the helplessness in the host-country, they were not treated equally for wages, social security and rights. They are beaten-up, exploited and ill-treated by the employers and contractors.

The fifth paper was again on the Indian domestic workers in Gulf countries in relevance of the policy-discourse news in Saudi Arabia by Prof. Irudaya Rajan. He discussed the system of “Nitaqat” which is the system of recruitment agency for emigrant workers of different states. He raised the issues of the wages, personal and professional lives and the division of labour within domestic work.

The sixth paper was presented on the subject of the Indian trade diaspora in West Asia by Prof. Prakash C. Jain. He talked about the history of trade communities from Gujarat, Punjab to Gulf countries. He mainly argued that the struggle and situations faced by these traders in becoming the business-empire.

The second-day of the conference was divided by three sessions.  The seventh paper was based on the topic ‘Memories, Trauma and the changing strategies: Migrant’s narratives of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait’ by Dr. Ginu Zacharia Oommen, NMML. He discussed about the Iraqi invasion in Kuwait and the dearth conditions of the Indian emigrant workers in Kuwait during 1990s. The mass-expulsion of the Kerala emigrant workers from Kuwait lead to the unemployment, poverty and loss of the property in Kuwait. It was a kind of mental torture for them in the period of the joblessness and expulsion to the back-home. They lost their jobs, money and source of livelihoods in Kuwait. These emigrant workers when returned without money to their homes, they were not welcomed by their families and relatives and considered as the extra-burden on the family. Ironically, some of them were left their home without any home and property behind to Kuwait. It was trauma for them when they returned bare-handed. The situations were so problematic because during that time, there was no media, no technological development and no source of direct contacts to the families back-home. Therefore, these emigrant workers were badly tortured and humiliated in the absence of rights and protection.

The seventh paper was based on the Philippine emigration to the Gulf countries by Dr. Neil G. Ruiz, The Brookings Institution, United States of America. He discussed the flow of Philippine emigration to the Gulf countries during 1970s to 2011. He discussed the characteristics of the Philippine emigrants that they were educational, technocrats and professionals. Initially, the flow of these emigrants was very large for while coloured jobs in Gulf countries. He highlighted the role of Philippine in strengthening the tertiary education sector and emphasizing on the technical-skills and knowledge for more and more economic development. The higher education has led to the more emigration to the abroad. The Philippines took this as opportunities for better income, employment and career prospects. It does not, however, affected their manufacturing sector as Philippine government never been ignorant for the manufacturing sector. The state has large funding source for the strengthening the knowledge-diaspora and therefore, Philippines are one of the largest emigrant groups in GCC countries. However, they faced the social-discrimination and ban on some religious practices.

This two-day conference came to an end with a valedictory address by Prof. S. Irudaya Rajan. He delivered the valedictory address on the issues, trends and policy of Kerala migration to the Gulf countries. He highlighted the practical problems in policy-formulation in terms of data-sources. He shared his experiences regarding the lack of update in data-sources in terms of total population of Indian emigrants in GCC countries. He talked about the data-collection by CDS on every five year but critically, the migration is so dynamic and transforming in nature that there is absence of update data on every year. Today, the emigrants faced many problems due to poor VISA-policy and immigration policy in host-land. They are restricted to return to their home-land because of surveillance issues. He also highlighted the numerous Indian emigrants in Gulf countries which are actually under-represented under the data-source of Kerala government. Due of scarce publicly opened data source, the total number of Indian emigrants in these countries are under-represented and under-valued by government. He straightforwardly stated that the government of India is only focusing on money but there is total ignorance on the rights and issues of the rights of the Indian emigrants. He criticized the passive role of the Indian government in protecting the migrant issues.

This conference was very knowledge-enriching, learning and motivating in the context of the research on migration policy. The conference was opened for discussion at the end of the every session with open-discussion and questions. This two-day conference was closed with a vote of thanks by Dr. Ginu Zacharia Oommen, Junior Fellow, NMML. On behalf of the entire team of NMML, Dr. Oommen has conveyed the thanks and regards to every guests, speakers and participants for the participation in this conference. He invited all the papers presented in this conference for the publication under the NMML.

Report by Monika Bisht, M.Phil. Scholar, National University of Educational Planning and Administration, New Delhi, India.


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