Supporting Indian workers in the Gulf amidst pandemic: What can India do?

Indian men working for a public services company in the United Arab Emirates, pose for a picture with their protective gear, masks and gloves, during the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, in Dubai on April 2, 2020. (Photo by KARIM SAHIB / AFP) (Photo by KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images)

Mobility of human resources is an essential feature of today’s globalized world where interconnected world markets, networks, and technology all lead to growing labour, student, skilled, and family movement. Today’s refugees are tomorrow’s Diaspora-and those of yesteryears, today’s.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the workers in the Gulf region have been in a Gordian knot. The toil of Indian migrant workers has long furled the oil-rich economies of West Asia. The Indian Economy is deeply dependent on the 3.3 million Indian workers who bring home huge remittances every year. For example, India received an amount of $13,823 million as remittances from UAE in the year 2018. It has become difficult for the workers to return home. There has been surge in the COVID-19 positive cases among Indians in the Gulf countries which have further worsened the situation. As of April 18, there are more than 3000 COVID-19 positive cases among the Indians living in Gulf. Many of them have left them stranded without financial support, also making it difficult for them to arrange lodging and food.

Read: COVID-19 Pandemic: The Plight of Indian Expatriates in the UAE

In the situation of distress, Indian government should step forward and focus on immediately flying out the most vulnerable amongst the stranded Indians. The most vulnerable amongst them are those whose visit visas have expired, those living there without any documentation, the unemployed, domestic workers as well as women and elderly dependents. Due to COVID-19 infections, certain neighbourhoods inhabited by Indians have been quarantined. Many of them who live on a sharing basis are confined with quarantined population thus leading to mental stress, anxiety, fear and uncertain future.

Although India had evacuated some of its nationals as well as foreigners when the spread of COVID-19 was under control. India’s decision to ban the international flights till May 3, comes in the light of alarming transmission of the virus. Amid the grave situation, however, there is the possibility of India-UAE ties getting strained over the issue of expat repatriation to India. Both countries are mature enough to handle the issue amicably, keeping in mind their respective national interests.

However, India’s Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) Arun Kumar has hinted over considering “specially approved flights” to bring home Indians stranded in the UAE and other Gulf countries before the end of the Indian lockdown on May 3. The Indian Consulate in Dubai has been coordinating various efforts to support the Indian community by providing them with food packets, rations, setting up of labour camps to safeguard them.

Image: AFP

With the immediate concern of both the governments is to contain the ongoing pandemic, the time is ripe to begin serious discussions and cooperation on multidimensional aspects of health care and medical science by collaborating in the production of medicines, funding of research projects, exchange of research papers, regular exchange of professionals between institutes. It is now known indisputably that a disease like COVID-19 could kill millions in a relatively short period of time. Simultaneously, there is a need to have a comprehensive understanding of the security challenges COVID-19 could pose to the international community, let alone India and Gulf. Regardless of the great relationship shared between India and Gulf one of the major challenges that India will continue to face during any crisis, whether a military conflict or a pandemic, is safeguarding the welfare of the Indian diaspora in the Gulf region. It is high time India and it regional partners should begin working on evacuation and rehabilitation strategies for use not only in times of conflict but also during crises like the COVID-19 pandemic. This is a nontraditional threat that cannot be ignored any longer.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Kootneeti Team

Anima Puri

Anima Puri is a PhD scholar at Amity Institute of Social Sciences, Amity University, Noida, India. She can be reached at animapuri4@gmail.com

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