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Prod to protect migrants’ rights

Thiruvananthapuram, July 4: Amnesty International today urged New Delhi to safeguard the rights of Indian workers in Saudi Arabia, blaming much of their misery on fraud by visa agents and brokers at the recruitment stage in India.

Tighter laws in India could therefore be one way of checking the exploitation, the human rights watchdog said, suggesting “effective regulation of recruiting agents and brokers, implementing compulsory pre-departure training, and providing effective access to remedy’’.

“Indian migrant workers can often face exploitation and deception on the pre-departure phase in India which contribute to serious human rights abuses” in Saudi Arabia, said an Amnesty report titled “Exploited Dreams, Dispatches from Indian Migrant Workers In Saudi Arabia”.

The report is “the outcome of interviews with 51 low-paid Indian workers, who returned after the Nitaqat (jobs for locals) law came into force in Saudi Arabia, and other stakeholders’’, G. Ananthapadmanabhan, CEO of Amnesty India, said.

His deputy Shashikumar Velath said the report’s release had been timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Nitaqat crackdown during which thousands of “irregular” Indian workers were sent back from Saudi Arabia.

According to the report, Saudi Arabia “has attracted more low-paid Indian migrants over the last 25 years than any other country in the Gulf region”.

“Every day, close to 1,000 Indian low-wage migrant workers are provided with emigration clearances to travel to Saudi Arabia. They are recruited to work in cafeterias, supermarkets, construction sites and guesthouses; they also sweep streets, cook in restaurants, and serve in households as domestic workers,” it says.

Together, they send close to Rs 50,000 crore to India every year, it adds. “Remittances to Kerala account for nearly a third of the state’s net domestic product.’’

However, the Indian workers face immense exploitation — they are often forced to work without wages and for long hours and have their passports confiscated by their employers, the report says.

It adds that the Kafala system, which requires migrant workers to obtain their employer’s permission to move jobs or leave Saudi Arabia, also works against them.

The suggestions made by Amnesty to New Delhi include:

Greater regulation of recruiting agents through the establishment of a department with enforcement powers under the protector of emigrants. It will conduct surprise checks and reviews;

Investigation of complaints against the recruiting agents;

Ensuring that the pre-departure orientation and support programmes reach all would-be migrants. These programmes are provided by the Centre and the Kerala government, some of it through the Overseas Workers Resource Centre, the Non-Resident Keralite Affairs Department (Norka) and the Migrants Resource Centre.

The report quotes the project manager involved in pre-departure trainings at Norka as saying that of the one lakh-odd people from Kerala granted emigration clearances every year to work in low-paid jobs abroad, only 3,500 to 6,000 receive pre-departure training.

Amnesty has urged Riyadh to sign the International Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Convention on the Protection of Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Saudi Arabia should also remove the requirement for migrant workers to obtain their employer’s permission to change jobs or return home, it has added.