Question – Although the Gulf countries are a major destination for Indian workers and professionals, Indian migrant workers in these countries face many problems, due to which they are vulnerable to exploitation. Describe in detail. – 14 October 2021
Answer – The estimated number of Indian diaspora is about 31 million spread across 134 countries of the world. According to the World Migration Report 2020, Indian expatriates account for the largest number of migrants (17.5 million) living abroad. From both perspectives, the Persian Gulf is a major region with over 8 million Indian expatriates.
Importance of Gulf region for India:
- The Gulf region has always had a distinct political, economic, strategic and cultural significance for India. The member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are moving ahead with their economic integration efforts, creating significant opportunities for cooperation for India in areas such as trade, investment, energy, labor force.
- The member countries of the GCC meet about 34 per cent of India’s oil requirements. However, over the years India’s dependence on the Gulf countries for its oil needs has reduced significantly. This is because India has turned to other suppliers like Nigeria, the US and Iraq.
- The United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Saudi Arabia are India’s two major trading partners among the member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with annual bilateral trade of about $60 billion and $34 billion, respectively.
- In addition, the Gulf region provides India’s critical development needs such as energy resources, investment opportunities for the corporate sector and employment opportunities for millions. While Iran gives India access to Afghanistan, Central Asia and Europe, Oman provides access to the western Indian Ocean.
Importance of Indian Diaspora
- Source of Income: Remittances contribute significantly to the economic resources of a country. The total share of remittances from Gulf countries stood at $37 billion in 2018.
- Social remittances: Transfer of new ideas, knowledge and new skills to the region by migrants is also facilitated.
- Benefit of soft power: Diaspora play a major role in strengthening the positive image of the country. The diaspora builds, strengthens and strengthens the historical and cultural ties between the two regions in West Asian countries and serves as a present reminder to the people.
- Strategic edge: The long-standing presence of the diaspora helps in taking forward bilateral relations.
However, they also suffer from various challenges as described below:
- Violation of basic human rights: Low-skilled and unskilled workers often face situations that violate their labor rights, and they are victims of abuse by employers.
- Economic issues: Factors such as economic slowdown, global pandemic situation and high demand for renewable energy are putting pressure on job opportunities in West Asia, and may lead to a large influx of migrants to India.
- Disruption due to change in host country’s policy: A total of 8 lakh Indians may be forced to leave Kuwait. Kuwait’s National Assembly committee has approved a draft ‘Migrant Quota Bill’ that seeks to reduce the number of foreign workers in the Gulf country.
- Loss of strategic importance: India’s ability to exert strategic pressure is somewhat restricted by the fear that the Gulf countries will find some other source of labour. Furthermore, any move to improve working conditions requires the cooperation of the Gulf countries. The welfare needs of expatriates put the Gulf states in a comparatively somewhat advantageous position when it comes to negotiations with India.
- Security Issues: The growing threat from ISIS has led to increased security threats to the Indian expatriates. The Government of India had to undertake various rescue operations to help and rescue the stranded Indians in such situations. For example, Operation Rahat in Yemen.
In view of the threat to the employment of Indian workers working in the Gulf countries, India has to assure full cooperation to the member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council in support of its measures to contain the spread of corona virus.
Use of various schemes launched by the government, such as Pravasi Bharatiya Bima Yojana and Indian Community Welfare Fund etc. to assist Indian migrant workers working abroad, especially in Gulf countries and to ensure their access to sanitation, food and healthcare can be done. India should expand its ‘Act West Policy’ after coming out of this crisis.