Foreign Policy Watch: India-Middle East

The South Asian-Gulf Migrant Crisis

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Indian diaspora in the Gulf countries

The pandemic has exacerbated the plight of the migrant workers in the Gulf countries. This article examines the issue and suggests the ways to deal with it.

Context

  • The Covid-19 exposed the precarious conditions of migrant workers in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
  • Employers have used the crisis as an opportunity to retrench masses of migrant labourers without paying them wages or allowances.

Impact of Covid-19

  • The South Asia-Gulf migration corridor is among the largest in the world.
  • The South Asian labour force forms the backbone of the Gulf economies.
  • The pandemic, the shutdown of companies, the tightening of borders, and the exploitative nature of the Kafala sponsorship system have all aggravated the miseries of South Asian migrant workers.
  • They have no safety net, social security protection, welfare mechanisms, or labour rights.
  • Now, thousands have returned home empty-handed from the host countries.
  • Indians constitute the largest segment of the South Asian workforce.
  • Gulf migration is predominantly a male-driven phenomenon.
  • A majority of the migrants are single men living in congested labour camps.
  • The COVID-19 spike in these labour camps has mainly been due to overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions.

Nationalisation of labour in Gulf

  • Now, the movement for nationalisation of labour and the anti-migrant sentiment has peaked in Gulf countries.
  • Countries like Oman and Saudi Arabia have provided subsidies to private companies to prevent native lay-offs.
  • However, the nationalisation process is not going to be smooth given the stigma attached to certain jobs and the influence of ‘royal sheikh culture’.

Challenges and solutions

  • The countries of origin are now faced with the challenge of rehabilitating, reintegrating, and resettling these migrant workers.
  • The Indian government has announced ‘SWADES’ for skill mapping of citizens returning from abroad.
  • But implementation seems uncertain.
  • Kerala, the largest beneficiary of international migration, has announced ‘Dream Kerala’ to utilise the multifaceted resources of the migrants.
  • Countries that are sending migrant workers abroad are caught between the promotion of migration, on the one hand, and the protection of migrant rights in increasingly hostile countries receiving migrants, on the other.

Way forward

  • The need of the hour is a comprehensive migration management system for countries that send workers as well as those that receive them.
  • No South Asian country except Sri Lanka has an adequate migration policy.

Conclusion

The pandemic has given us an opportunity to voice the rights of South Asian migrants and to bring the South Asia-Gulf migration corridor within the ambit of SAARC, the ILO, and UN conventions.

Original article:

https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/the-south-asian-gulf-migrant-crisis/article32215146.ece

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