Just the news of the return of Indian nurses and other workers from the trouble spots of north Africa and west Asia gives no indication of the vast operation conducted by the government to secure their evacuation. Indian embassies in these regions are working overtime to provide the necessary papers, flight tickets and conveyance. Government officials are also negotiating on the behalf of those stranded with either their employers or captors to ease their release, particularly in Iraq and Libya which have been marked danger zones. There are yet many migrant workers who have fallen out of this grid of intense activity — some by compulsion, such as the 41 workers in Iraq who are being held captive in an unknown location, and some by conviction. Many have chosen to stay back because they know that the government has extended its helping hand because it is a period of emergency. When the moment passes, as several workers who have returned to Kerala and Punjab know already, the sense of security, which the government intervention brought with it, will also be gone. Emigration to the Middle East, and now the north African region, remains a grey zone in which government presence is not palpably felt. Hence to sell the skills that remain unsold in the Indian job market, where the government seems just as painfully absent, Indians fall back on their own abilities to deal with visa brokers and mercenary recruiting agents who promise a way out of poverty. Since Indian emigration laws or conventions allow no special comfort, Indian migrant workers often find themselves trapped in inhospitable living conditions made worse by poor wages, discrimination and open abuse. They often stay back, willingly — just as so many migrants in the hostile environment of west Asia and north Africa have done — because they cannot afford to be back in India and in a situation made more vulnerable than before by the loans they usually commit themselves to.
The Indian government, which makes no distinction between the foreign remittance sent by the much-lauded Indian workforce in the Silicon Valley and that by construction workers in Qatar, is not unaware of the misfortunes that regularly befall its migrants. But it gets into action only in an emergency. Be it in assuring basic rights to Indian workers abroad or their rehabilitation within India during circumstances such as these, it is peculiarly devoid of energy and ideas.