These workers have lost jobs, have no home or food & have to pay huge fines before being repatriated to India
Thousands of jobless undocumented Indians in the Arab Gulf countries will not benefit from the Vande Bharat Mission as they do not have money to clear their overstaying fines, The Lede has learned.
“I was laid off by my employer some 10 months ago. I don’t have a shelter. Daily food is also a challenge. I registered with the Indian embassy in Muscat to return. I got a call too from the embassy. But when I went there, they told me that I can fly only if I pay the overstaying fine and purchase a ticket,” Shameer U, a Keralite in Muscat, told The Lede.
Shameer and some 400 Indian workers have been left in the lurch by their employer since January. Shameer’s work permit card expired in December 2019.
Eventually, he has to pay nearly Rs 1 lakh for overstaying till April before he exits Oman.
“I am a kidney patient too. I don’t have money for food and medicines. When I contacted my company, they said that they won’t pay the fine or purchase a flight ticket. Will I die here?” Shameer asked.
Oman had waived off overstaying fines for people whose visa had expired only after the third week of March. Shameer’s and many of his friends’ visas expired well before then.
“When my company official contacted Oman officials, they said that I have to pay the fine,” he added.
Meanwhile, Albert, another worker who is also overstaying in Oman, said that he has lost hope.
“My company didn’t renew the visa. They laid me off. Now I am on the streets. No shelter and food. I am very worried,” Albert said.
Similar is the condition of undocumented workers in other Gulf countries, except in Kuwait and Bahrain where amnesty has been announced.
Kuwait had announced an amnesty for undocumented and overstaying migrant workers to register from April 01 to 30.
According to an Indian embassy official in Kuwait, around 5000 have registered. Kuwait initiated the amnesty as a measure to combat the COVID-19 spread.
Similarly, Bahrain also has announced a nine-month amnesty for undocumented and overstaying workers started last month. It will end on December 31 and aims to cover an estimated 55,000 expatriate workers of different nationalities.
Amnesty is a programme rolled out by Arab governments to make arrangements for overstaying migrant workers to leave the country without paying fine.
Meanwhile, the UAE government extended the validity of all visas, including visit visas, residency visas, Emirates ID, and entry permits that have expired after March 01, 2020. According to the UAE government, different visas will remain valid until December 2020.
Rafeek Ravuther, an Indian migrant rights activist, said that India should seriously consider repatriating such vulnerable migrants at the earliest.
“There are hundreds of Shameers and Alberts in the Arab Gulf countries. When they are undocumented, they don’t even have the right to access healthcare. When this is the situation, they should get repatriated first through Vande Bharat Mission,” Rafeek said.
Rafeek also added that the Indian government must request the Arab countries to declare amnesty considering this pandemic situation.
“Our brothers and sisters should not die like dogs in foreign countries,” he added.
Meanwhile, a social worker in Oman told The Lede that they cannot pay the huge fines of overstaying workers.
“Even a single worker may have some Rs 1 lakh fine for overstaying. We can't pay for that. We also are facing salary cuts. So we can't clear those fines. Only the government can do something,” the social worker, who requested anonymity, said.
“If Oman government declares an amnesty, then that would be the perfect way to deal with the situation,” the social worker said, adding that the Indian government should also expand the scope of Vande Bharat Mission to repatriate such workers.
Vande Bharat mission is a massive repatriation operation planned by the Indian government to bring back stranded Indians in different parts of the world in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.
In the first phase that started on May 07, some 64 “non-scheduled, commercial” flights will be operated from about 12 countries to bring back 14,800 citizens.
In the second week, beginning May 16, India is planning 106 flights and 21 feeder flights to take passengers to cities closer to their destinations once they land in India.
About 25,000 are expected to be flown back to India in the second week.
Of the 106 flights, again the largest number will be to the Arab Gulf, where there are thousands of Indians still waiting to return.
There will be 11 flights to the UAE, including seven to Dubai, six to Saudi Arabia, and because of the sheer size of the country, Riyadh, Dammam, and Jeddah, two to Bahrain, three to Kuwait, seven to Oman and three to Qatar.