How the Gulf dream becomes a nightmare for low-paid Indian immigrants


oi-Prakash KL


Updated: Monday, June 6, 2022, 16:45 [IST]

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The cases of non-payment of salaries, long working hours, inadequate living conditions, physical harassment and refusal of leave for the labors are reported regularly.

New Delhi, Jun 6: People migrate to places for many reasons and mainly for better living conditions. They move in search of work and economic opportunities. They hope that their temporary or permanent stay will improve their life standard as well as their dependents. In a country where 60 per cent of population, or an estimated 812 million people, live below the poverty line, finding work outside the country remains the best option to fight penury.

How the Gulf dream becomes a nightmare for low-paid Indian immigrants

And the destination that attracts the most of the Indians is the ‘Gulf’ nation which symbolises hope and prosperity. After the oil boom in the Gulf in 1970s, the inflow of migrant workers saw a steady rise. Hence, it is not surprising to see an estimated 8.5 million Indian migrants working in the Gulf. While working in the Arab nations has brought positive changes to their lives, for many, there are reports of low-paying migrant workers of being subject to mental and physical torture by their employers.

Population of Overseas Indians in the Gulf States, 2018 (Source: MEA)

Country NRI Persons of Indian Origin Overseas Indians
Bahrain 312,918 3,257 316,175
Kuwait 928,421 1,482 929,903
Oman 688,226 919 689,145
Qatar 691,539 500 692,039
Saudi Arabia 2,812,408 2160 2,814,568
UAE 3,100,000 4586 3,104,586
Total 8,533512 12,904 8,546416

The cases of non-payment of salaries, long working hours, inadequate living conditions, physical harassment and refusal of leave for the labors are reported regularly. The shocking part of the story is that nearly 10 workers from India died every day in Gulf countries between January 1, 2012 and mid-2018, a voluntary group said based on analysis of RTI responses.

“Available data indicates, at least 24,570 Indian workers died in the six Gulf countries between 2012 and mid-2018. This number could increase if the complete figures for Kuwait and UAE are made available publicly. This amounts to more than 10 deaths per day during this period,” Venkatesh Nayak from Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative told PTI.

What hopes the most is more than half of the deaths are unexplained, says a report published by FairSquare, a non-profit human rights organisation, that produces specialist research to help prevent human rights abuse, and promote accountability and the rule of law.

How the Gulf dream becomes a nightmare for low-paid Indian immigrants

A significant proportion of the migrants work in low-paid sectors of the Gulf states’ sustainable and they are subjected to risks to their physical and mental health. Some of the risks originating from workplaces are measurable.

For an instance, researchers in 2020 found that t non-Kuwaiti males were vulnerable to hot temperatures “with a doubling to tripling risk of mortality.” Research published in 2019 found a correlation between heat and deaths of Nepalese migrant workers in Qatar. New York University professor Natasha Iskander, conducted extensive field research on construction sites in Qatar and noted the impact of heat on workers.

What Makes Migrants Tolerate Torture?

However, the cash-rich Gulf nations have no law to adequately mitigate the risk posed to outdoor workers by its extremely harsh climate. Despite facing physical and mental torture, the migrants are unable to quit their jobs because they either have a huge debt burden on them, which they took to find work in the Gulf, or they lack the required knowledge to escape from their miseries.

The low-paying migrants pay a huge amount to get jobs in the Gulf nation. In a hope of earning big money overseas, they take loans at high-interest rates, thereby getting trapped in the cycle of debt and ending up as a forced labor.

However, there are also cases of migrants struggling to manage their finances during their stay in the Gulf. Thus getting caught in a debt trap. “They spend more than what they earn. Even their families back home don’t realise the facts and do the same. Finally, this person falls into a debt trap, which leads to unnecessary stress, disappointment and ultimately suicide,” Jose Chacko, a financial analyst in Oman, tells Firstpost.

As per Deepak, who works in Dubai, many migrants struggle to understand the nature of their work before coming to the Gulf. “They get frustrated eventually. They take the stress over a period of time. In some cases, what they were offered (salary) before joining will be different from what they get which adds to their frustration,” he tells.

About 322 Indians committed suicide in 2017 in Gulf countries Indian embassies in Dubai, Muscat, Kuwait and Riyadh revealed in a response to a Right to Information query. Saudi Arabia recorded the highest number of deaths at 117 followed by UAE (116), Oman (46) and Kuwait (43).

However, the Covid-19 pandemic made the lives of the migrants worst. “The deaths increased notably in 2020 and 2021, the years of the Covid-19 pandemic. For the three years prior to the outbreak of the pandemic the total number of deaths was 17,667, an average of 5,892 deaths per year. In 2020 and 2021 , 16,732 Indian nationals died in the Gulf states – an average of 8366 deaths per year.

This represents a difference of nearly 5,000 deaths over this two year period. Until 31 January 2022, 3,670 Indian nationals were recorded as dying of Covid-19 across the Gulf. The fact that the number of excess deaths is greater than the number of recorded Covid-19 deaths may reflect reporting failures in the Gulf states, or deaths indirectly resulting from the pandemic,” Fairsq report stated.

The COVID-19 pandemic and slump in oil prices contributed significantly to the re-evaluation of foreign employment in Kuwait.

Lakhs lost their jobs and over 2.5 million people returned home from the Emirates alone.

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