Majority of distressed workers in the Gulf, where Kafala system is practised, are under tremendous mental pressure
Migrant rights activists have urged migrant sending and receiving countries to step up initiatives to support distressed workers psychologically and emotionally.
“Workers who are approaching Indian embassies with grievances are not even heard properly. In most of the cases, they aggrieved worker is not getting a positive response which puts the workers mentally down. This even can push the worker to take drastic steps like committing suicide,” Rafeek Ravuther, Director at Centre for Indian Migrant Studies, in Kerala, told The Lede.
“We should have an institutional set up and also the welfare officers in Indian embassies should be trained to support grieved worker mentally too,” he added.
Recently, a Keralite domestic worker who was trafficked to the UAE and then employed in Oman had to undergo tremendous mental pressure due to hostile working conditions.
According to a social worker who was involved in the rescue operations of the domestic worker with the coordination of the Indian embassy in Oman, the domestic worker repeatedly said that she would commit suicide.
“She is a computer graduate. Due to financial liabilities at her home, she decided to migrate. Unfortunately, she fell prey to traffickers. Instead of employing her as a computer programmer in the UAE, where she came first, she was trafficked to Oman and employed as a domestic worker.
She was reportedly facing physical and mental abuse. Finally, with the embassy’s intervention she was rescued. And at the time of rescue, she was mentally shattered,” the social worker who requested anonymity, told The Lede.
“She is now in the embassy shelter. She will be repatriated soon. However, we all know that she needs mental support to overcome the abuse she had faced in the last few weeks. But unfortunately, there is no option available here,” the social worker added.
A few months ago, in a similar case, a Keralite woman domestic worker who was trafficked, rescued and repatriated had to consult a counsellor here to overcome the mental trauma.
“We had to take our mother to a clinical psychologist here in Kerala. She is still under medication,” Shiji S, daughter of the repatriated domestic worker, told The Lede.
According to social workers in the Arab Gulf countries, it is not only distressed women domestic workers who need mental support, many distressed men workers who are employed in construction and retail sector are also in need of mental support.
“We have been dealing with hundreds of stranded men workers in Saudi Arabia. I have been involved in helping them for the last three decades. In most cases, what I see is that they all are mentally disturbed and are on the verge of committing suicide.
It is quite hard to console them. And most of the time, they don’t get a positive response for their issues from the embassy. So, they get depressed more. So now, we are seeking help from Indian psychologists in Saudi Arabia to attend some serious cases because there is no institutional support available,” Lateefh Thechy, the social worker, told The Lede.
Lateefh added that the Indian government should seriously think of setting up institutional or non-institutional system to support distressed workers mentally.
Thousands of workers are stranded in the Arab Gulf without jobs, salary and even proper shelter, due to the economic downturn which started in the mid of 2014.
Majority of the workers are left in the lurch to fight their cases for years without much protection or any institutional support.
“In some cases, the workers are also physically unwell. Many are diabetic and may be having some other lifestyle diseases too. When they don’t have any pay and are in a stranded situation, then they will be failing to buy medicine and food.
This will add to mental woes and many will be in a bad shape,” advocate Hubertson Tomwilson, a migrant rights activist in India who handles stranded workers’ legal cases, told The Lede.
Even though Indians migrate to almost all countries in the world, majority of them migrate to the Arab Gulf foreseeing better salary due to the higher conversion rates of Arab currencies with Indian Rupee.
And in the Arab Gulf, the working conditions are hostile due to the Kafala system, an employer-employee relation followed by the Arab government, since 1960s. The Kafala system keeps the worker ‘bonded’ to the employer, which eventually leads to exploitation of workers putting them under stress.
According to a parliament document, from January 2019 till this June, some 9000 distressed Indian workers in all six Arab Gulf countries have approached the Indian embassies with various grievances.
The parliament document itself states that most of the complaints received from and on behalf of Indian workers are regarding non-payment of salaries and denial of legitimate labour rights and benefits such as non-issuance/renewal of residence permits, non-payment/grant of overtime allowance, weekly holidays, longer working hours, refusal to grant exit/re–entry permits for visit to India, refusal to allow the worker on final exit visa after completion of their contracts and non-provision of medical and insurance facilities, not being paid compensation upon death, etc.
Father Eugene Pereira, the head of Migrant Forum in Kerala, told The Lede that the above said reasons itself are enough to add to the mental woes of the worker.
“And unfortunately, we don’t have a system to address it. What we urge the Indian government to do is to set up a support system for workers to address their mental woes without much delay,” Fr Eugene said.
In the 23 objectives laid out in Global Compact for Migration (GCM) drafted by the United Nations to ensure safe, orderly and regular migration, mental health of migrant workers is also given stress in two objectives.
India has also adopted the GCM in 2018 December with other nations.