The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is home to around 2.8 million Indian nationals, of which 60-70 per cent are blue-collar workers. The UAE has the second largest community of Indians, after Saudi Arabia. But the exact number of Indian blue-collar workers there is not available as the UAE authorities do not share such data with the Indian Embassy.
“Our endeavour is to see that all persons who are coming to the UAE—broadly in the ECR category—come through e-Migrate,” Navdeep Suri, the Indian Ambassador to the UAE, told Frontline, at the Indian Consulate in Dubai recently.
“That needs more work at both ends, in India and in the UAE. In India, we still need to do more to regulate the unscrupulous travel agents who take people for a ride, and here in the UAE, part of our conversations is to see if we can minimise the issue of visitor visas which can be converted into work visas. That’s part of an ongoing conversation,” he added.
Despite its pitfalls, many, including Ambassadors of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, say that e-Migrate is a good initiative to prevent exploitation. “We are getting good results out of e-Migrate, but there’s still a large category of people who come from outside the e-Migrate system,” said Suri.
Such large concentrations bring in associated problems too: that of incarceration, death on the job, harassment and torture, and non-payment of wages. As of end October, there were about 900 Indians incarcerated in UAE jails. The Mission provides free legal counselling at the Indian Workers Resource Centre to Indians in need. It also gets consular access from the local authorities to meet Indian inmates in Abu Dhabi jails. It has a provision for legal assistance through the Indian Community Welfare Fund to Indians in most deserving cases.
As many as 294 Indians have died in the UAE in 2017 because of reasons other than natural causes (as of end October). These include worksite accidents, suicides and road accidents. There were two cases of murder too.
On the question of workers being exploited across the region, Suri said that the Embassy was working closely with a range of organisations to help labourers in distress. “The Indian Community Welfare Fund gives us a very important instrument to address the needs of the Indian workers’ community in the UAE. What I would like to say is that even though we do encounter a number of cases on an ongoing basis of people losing their jobs, people not getting salaries in time or other cases of difficulty, it is a broad trend; it is that the UAE government is aligning its laws with the global practices. It sees the importance of being a caring host for guest workers and one of the most important developments in the recent weeks is the decision to move the category of domestic workers—maids, chauffeurs, cooks—from the Ministry of Interior to the Ministry of Labour so that they can now get redress in labour courts unlike in the previous system. To me that is a very concrete example of progress in the right direction,” he said.
(Originally published in the Frontline, India.)