Globally, India ranks as number one in terms of international migrants and remittances and six countries in the Gulf alone account for close to 50 per cent of Indian migrants.


What is the status?

  • As per the latest Kerala Migration Survey (2018), close to two million Keralites reside in the Gulf.
  • Most often, policymakers discuss the ills of the infamous “Kafala” or sponsorship system in the Gulf that enables employers to wield significant power over the lives of migrant workers.
  • Over the last three decades, stakeholders at the international, regional and national levels have discussed the labour rights violations in destination countries, particularly the Gulf.
  • However, the vulnerabilities of migrant workers, especially those doing low-skill jobs, remain the same.


What are the issues?

  • Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries have been accused of not providing healthcare services, employment and social protection for workers during Covid-19.
  • The lack of access to healthcare services and the absence of health service firewalls for undocumented migrants created panic and led to large-scale repatriation during the pandemic.
  • Perhaps the most important example of labour rights violations in the GCC is from the construction of stadiums for the football World Cup to be held in Qatar. The concerns over the rights violations and deaths of migrant workers during construction continue to be widely discussed.


Is the GCC doing something about it?

  • Due to the massive reporting of labour rights violations and criticism of the Kafala system, GCC countries are trying to reform labour laws. Much of this is symbolic and tries to project the region as migrant-labour friendly.
  • Simultaneously, the countries are also implementing nationalisation policies, which could lead to forceful job termination. However, the changes should be seen as a positive sign on the road to abolishing Kafala and other anti-labour laws.
  • Signs of progress are visible in processes like the Abu Dhabi Dialogue, a regional forum for cooperation between Asian countries that are the origin of and destination for labour. The forum is keen on developing information orientation programmes for workers, promoting technology platforms, and reforms in domestic workers’ laws.


What is India doing in this regard?

  • As a key player in the South Asia-GCC migration corridor, India should serve as a role model for South Asia. However, our efforts for migrant welfare are often limited to “repatriation exercises” during the crisis.
  • The lethargy in tabling the draft Emigration Bill of 2021 (originally drafted in 2019) indicates the approach towards migrant workers, especially low-skilled workers.
  • The existing MoUs with GCC countries on domestic workers’ recruitment and prevention of irregular recruitment have had very little impact. Historically, India’s response to the grievances of migrant workers has been poor.
  • However, in recent years the government portal “Madad” has enabled migrant workers from the country to file their grievances. According to the Ministry of External Affairs website, about 95 per cent of the registered grievances were resolved.


Way forward

  • The bottlenecks in the countries of destination and origin imply a need for a joint effort to address the issues of migrants rather than playing a blame game during situations like the pandemic and migrant deaths.
  • A review of the implementation of GCM objectives in the recently concluded International Migration Review Forum indicates that the governments are nowhere near developing a collective conscience on global labour mobility.
  • India should play a leading role in building regional alliances in the South Asia-GCC corridor. A joint effort of all stakeholders including government, trade unions, recruitment agents and civil society can bring notable changes.


SourceThe Indian Express


QUESTION – The issues of migrant workers in the Gulf countries need a consistent and coherent strategy by India to address them at both governance and diplomatic level. Comment.