Representative image
Representative image|Photo credit: Migrant

Little Food, No Basic Amenities In Indian Embassies' Shelters

On Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, rescued migrant workers say their lives are living hell in shelters managed by Indian embassies

Rejimon Kuttappan

Rejimon Kuttappan

“It is better to adjust with the exploitative Arab employer rather than being here. There, at least we get food. But here, that also is limited. We have to beg for even basic amenities.”

These were the words of an Indian woman domestic worker who has taken shelter at an Indian embassy-managed shelter in Oman.

According to the woman domestic worker, there are at least 100 sheltered in two embassy-managed shelters and the situation is pathetic in both shelters.

“We are getting only limited food, that too one time a day, and also are being denied basic things like a toothbrush, sleeping mat, medicine and all,” the woman domestic worker alleged adding that many have only a single dress to wear.

“We don’t have extra innerwear to change. Whom should we tell this to?” the domestic worker asked.

The domestic worker said that food is of poor quality and they are being treated inhumanely by the people in charge of the shelter.

“We don’t even get phone access to communicate with home. Here it’s like hell,” the women domestic worker alleged adding that, the officials from the embassy who come to meet them also have only cold responses to provide.

According to the domestic worker, the inmates of the shelter feel that the embassy officials are least bothered about their repatriation.

“When we ask for an update, they have the same answer… dekhenge (we will see),” the women alleged.

Even though The Lede had emailed the Indian embassy in Oman seeking comment on the allegations raised by the domestic workers in the shelter on January 07, we have not received a reply till the time of this story was filed.

Indian women who flee from employers due to the denial of decent working conditions or rights violations take shelter in the embassy-managed shelter.

Due to the existence of the Kafala system, the bonded-labour system in Oman and other Arab countries, migrants are unsafe, especially women migrant workers.

In the Kafala system, migrant workers can rarely enjoy freedom of movement and decent working conditions. In addition to the denial of freedom of movement, migrant workers are also subjected to mental and physical exploitation.

Quoting parliament replies, The Lede had earlier reported that on average, 52 Indians working in the Arab Gulf are lodging labour complaints daily in the Indian embassies.

This year, from January 01, till October 12, there were 15,051 complaints registered with the Indian embassies in all six Arab Gulf countries.

To safeguard women migrant workers and ensure decent working conditions, the Indian government had introduced the eMigrate system, an official migration channel, in 2014.

However, still, some fraudulent agents dupe the potential women migrants and traffic them to the Arab Gulf countries.

Such trafficked women migrants eventually get enslaved to the employers in the Arab countries and when they cannot continue to survive, they flee from the employer with the help of social workers and take shelter in the embassy-managed shelters.

In addition to this, a few women domestic migrant workers who had migrated through the official channel also take shelter in the shelters when they get exploited.

A document tabled by the Ministry of External Affairs in 2018 in the parliament, reveals that the Indian Missions in the Arab Gulf receive complaints from women workers, particularly female domestic sector workers, on account of poor working conditions, non-payment or delay in payment of salaries and denial of other benefits such as medical facilities, refusal of leave or denial of exit/re-entry permits for visits to India, denial of final exit visas to the workers to return to India after completion of the contract, maltreatment by the employers, etc.

“Incidents of confinement, physical abuse, abandoning of domestic workers by their employers have also been reported. Most of the complaints pertain to female workers, who do not have proper employment contracts and have migrated illegally, in violation of government norms for recruitment of Emigration Clearance Required workers from India,” the document adds.

An Indian social worker in Oman told The Lede over phone that they are hearing about sheltered women being denied dignity for a long time.

“Many sheltered women have reached out to many social workers here claiming that they are being treated inhumanely. But nobody dares to talk to the embassy regarding this. It is a shame that we also feel helpless,” the social worker who requested anonymity said.

“We can see that the Indian embassy is having funds for all celebrations. Why can’t they set aside a few amounts for providing basic things for the sheltered women there? We are even getting messages that the women even don’t get sanitary pads when it is required,” the social worker said while adding that he feels ashamed, especially when India is celebrating Pravasi Bharatiya Divas today.

The Indian embassy had uploaded a notice inviting members of the Indian community for the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas 2020 celebration on 09 January at the embassy.

The Lede