South Asia-Gulf migration corridor is one of the largest among the world in which South Asians account for nearly 15 million in the Gulf.
The Kerala High Court in early July issued a notice to the central and state governments on a petition seeking to set up a mechanism to assist NRIs who had lost their jobs abroad and had returned to India, to seek due compensation.
South Asians labour forms the backbone of the Gulf economics in which India constitutes the largest segment of the South Asian countries. Gulf migration is basically a male driven phenomenon. A majority of migrants are single men living in congested labour camps. They share room, toilets, and save their earnings to send back home. The main reason of rising cases COVID-19 in these camps are improper, overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions.
The petition seeks Court’s intervention to reclaim unpaid salaries, residual areas, retirement benefits, and even compensation for relatives of migrant workers, who have died since the outbreak COVID-19. Construction company employers have used the crisis as an opportunity to retrench masses of migrant labourers without paying them wages or allowances. The abnormal situations of pandemic, the sealing of borders, and the exploitative nature of the Kafala sponsorship system have added to the miseries of South Asian migrant workers. They are left with no safety net, social protection, welfare mechanisms, or labour rights.
In the initial days of lockdown days of lockdown, Kerala government was requested to send medicines for lifestyle diseases. Migrants often procure medicines from India and stock up as they are quite expensive in GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council). Now, thousands have returned empty handed from the host countries.
The misery and plight of migrant workers have forced Indian Government to repatriate the NRIs through ‘Vande Bharat’ mission. 7.88 Lakh NRIs were repatriated from various destinations. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka etc. have also been repetriating their citizens. The past three major crisis in the Gulf which includes Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the Global Economic Crisis and the Nitaqat in Saudi Arabia- had not triggered such massive reverse migration, which is being done by the unprecedented nature of COVID-19 along with the fluctuation of oil prices. The countries of origin are now facing a major challenge of rehabilitating, reintegrating, and resettling these migrant workers. ‘SWADES’ has been started by the the government for skill mapping of the citizens returning back, but the implementation seems uncertain. ‘DREAM KERALA’ has been started by the Kerala, which gets the largest benefit of international migration, to utilise the multifaceted resources of the migrants.
However, the anti-migrant sentiment and the movement for nationalisation have peaked.
Countries like Oman and Saudi Arabia have provided subsides to private companies to prevent native lay offs.
Concluding, the need of the hour is a comprehensive migration management system for countries that send workers as well as receive them. No country other than Sri Lanka has proper migration policy. The situation of pandemic has given the right opportunity to voice and stand for the rights of migrants and bring the South Asia-Gulf migration corridor in the ambit of the SAARC, the ILO and the UN conventions.