HYDERABAD: Imagine being stuck in a Gulf country as a migrant worker, abused by your employer and left ‘Khalli Walli’ (an Arabic phrase meaning leave it or don’t care). With your passport, civil identity card and other documents kept with the firm, you have no avenues to seek help and the threat of being implicated in false cases by your employer looms large.
At such a time, the hope of ever seeing your loved ones looks bleak. This is the reality for many workers from the Telugu states in Gulf countries.
Vice president of the Telangana State Gulf Joint Action Committee, Gangula Muralidhar Reddy, a native of Kishtareddipet village of Ameenpur Mandal in Sangareddy district, was one such worker who migrated to Kuwait in 2000 as a highly-skilled draughtsman (one who makes technical plans or drawings) specialised in civil, structural and mechanical work.
He has been passionately working to rescue such migrant workers stranded in UAE, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Oman, Bahrain and even Malaysia for more than a decade, dealing with more than 600 such cases and having seen success in 60 per cent of those cases.
The problems which migrants from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh face in Gulf countries range from wage theft (not being paid as assured by the employer), fake visas granted to them which land them in trouble there, abuse by employers, health issues, overwork under high physical and emotional pressure, and the threat of jail, going missing, or even death.
Coordination with agencies
In such situations, the procedure to come back home takes months. Muralidhar has mastered the procedures and has been coordinating with the family members of the victims, State government officials in the General Administration Department, officials in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), employers of the migrant workers and the Indian embassies in all these countries to ensure that the victims’ problems are heard and addressed.
A case that he is presently handling is of eight workers from Sirikonda, Nizamabad, Ramayampet and Armoor who had gone to Kuwait having been assured of a packing job in the supermarkets. However, after going there, they were made to work in the agricultural fields with long working hours and for paltry wages.
They approached him and he is currently in the process of bringing them home. Time, money, understanding the victim and support from the governments there and back home are the challenges he has to confront, he tells TNIE.
High processing time
“When we lodge a complaint with the Indian Embassy there, they ask the workers to approach them. Escaping from their employer is taking a huge risk for them since all the documents are withheld and they are often left with no money or food to survive. Travelling long distances is a huge task for the victim. Even after they manage to approach the embassy, it doesn’t provide them shelter.
When there are 10 lakh migrant workers working in Kuwait and less than a hundred staff members working in the embassy, it is almost impossible to track each and every case and address them quickly,” he observes.
In many cases, he says that the victim wouldn’t even know whether a travel ban has been imposed on him/her and whether a case has been booked by the employer.
Pointing out that a civil identity card is similar to India’s Aadhaar Card, which helps keep a record of various aspects of the migrant’s stay and status in the country, he believes that a system can be put in place to integrate the card with the phone number and make the information about their present status accessible at their fingertips whenever they desire.
Need for Gulf Board
He suggests implementing something like Kerala, where the Overseas Development and Employment Promotion Consultants (ODEPC), a State government undertaking, has been engaged in manpower recruitment for overseas jobs for the last 35 years. The Non-Resident Keralites Affairs (NORKA) is also a Department of the Kerala government which was formed in 1996 to address the grievances of migrant workers.
Muralidhar says that registration of migrant workers under the Pravasi Bharatiya Bhima Yojana is a step forward taken by the Centre in the correct direction. He also points out that very few migrants use the MADAD portal of the MEA to voice their grievances. Most of the migrants fail to register with the local embassies, he adds.
For Telangana, he suggests establishing a ‘Gulf Board’ with a set budget, as the NRI Cell which was launched a few years ago was not able to address the pressing issues being faced by the migrants.
"India is getting $80 billion in the form of remittances through migrants every year. The companies in Gulf countries have also been resorting to visa trading, which has caused a loss of Rs 9,000 crore to migrants, as they were not paid ‘end of services’ benefits when they were forced to leave the country during the pandemic," he said.
"India has shored up several countries during the pandemic by donating thousands of crores, but we failed to come to the rescue of our own people who were stranded in Gulf countries and suffered terribly due to the loss of jobs and shortage of food. There was hardly any effort put in to rehabilitate those who returned home,” he adds.