Impact: Indian Embassy Begins Probe Into ‘Freedom Fee’ Issue Following The Lede’s Expose
NORKA’s (Department of Non-Resident Keralites Affairs) contract with Kuwait’s Al Durra agency to recruit Indian domestic workers faces uncertainty as the Indian embassy has intervened with definite steps.
NORKA is a Kerala government’s arm set up to ensure the safe migration and welfare of Keralite migrants. It is the agency entrusted by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs to recruit nurses and domestic service workers for 18 Emigration Clearance Required (ECR) countries.
On January 10, The Lede had exposed that domestic workers sent by NORKA to Kuwait are being subjected to modern-day slavery and forced to pay freedom fee by Al Durra for return.
An Indian domestic worker who had returned to India after paying the freedom fee and a few other women stuck in the Al Durra shelter in Kuwait had detailed to The Lede how the NORKA-Al Durra safe migration contract is falling apart and how women are subjected to slavery and threatened.
Probe Initiated By Indian Embassy
On Wednesday, talking to The Lede, a senior official from the Indian embassy in Kuwait said that, upon coming across The Lede story, they have written to Al Durra agency seeking the terms and conditions which allow them to seek money from domestic workers who wish to return.
The Lede had published the receipt, which Al Durra had given to Beena Omanakuttan, the Indian domestic worker who paid Rs 1.1 lakh 'freedom fee' for securing her return from Kuwait.
“We have sought an explanation from Al Durra. One reply has come without proper clarifications. We have written to them again. If they fail to give us a convincing answer for the violation, we will take appropriate actions. We don’t want Indian domestic workers to be exploited. The Indian embassy is here to ensure their safety and welfare,” the official told The Lede.
Following the The Lede story on January 10, a few more women who were held back as they had no money to secure their freedom had returned without paying a single penny.
The Lede had reported the same too on January 16.
Meanwhile, talking to The Lede, Beena Omanakuttan said that women sent by NORKA are quite literally being sold by Al Durra.
“When I requested Al Durra to change my employer as he was exploitative, I was called back to the Al Durra office and then sold to another employer. The Al Durra had taken 600 Kuwaiti Dinar from the first employer. And from the second employer, they took 500 Kuwaiti Dinar. So, they earned 1100 Kuwaiti Dinar, which is Rs 2,57,000. After earning this money, they forced me to pay Rs 1.1 lakh for freedom. I had to purchase my ticket too,” Beena said.
Interestingly, it is learned that even though NORKA is a government agency, it has not been following the norms set by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs.
The Indian Ministry of External Affairs has developed a standard job contract for workers who migrate through eMigrate, which guarantees several protective steps to ensure decent working conditions and welfare of Indian migrants.
eMigrate was established by the Indian government in 2015 to ensure safe migration as thousands were duped by crooked recruitment agencies.
“I am surprised to learn that NORKA is not following eMigrate norms. Why can’t they replicate the standard job contract prepared by the Indian government,” Advocate Hubertson Tomwilson, a migrant rights activist, said.
Meanwhile, an RTI reply from NORKA states that from 2015 till 10 January 2020, it has recruited 413 domestic workers, 1150 nurses, 7 doctors, and 24 technicians.
The maximum number of domestic workers were recruited in 2019. The number is 299.
Heading To Court
Meanwhile, MK Salim, a public interest litigation activist, will file a plea in Kerala High Court against NORKA.
Submitting The Lede story as evidence and getting consent from Beena Omanakuttan, the activist has prepared a plea which states that NORKA Roots directors are the biggest employers in the Arab Gulf, however, they are not recruiting a single person through NORKA.
“The NORKA Roots have employed lakhs of Keralites in their establishments in the Arab Gulf. Unfortunately, none of them were recruited through NORKA. They all were employed directly so that they can be exploited. This is unfair,” Salim said.
Chaired by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, leading businessmen in the Arab Gulf are other directors of NORKA Roots.
“Why are these directors enjoying the privileges of being a director in NORKA Roots, if they don’t want to take a single Keralite through the entity where they are directors. It’s a shame,” Salim added.
There are 30 million Indian migrant workers, with over nine million in the GCC region (Gulf Cooperation Council) alone.
Over 90% of Indian migrant workers who work in the Arab Gulf are semi-skilled and unskilled workers.