Coronavirus Outbreak: India stares at strained ties with UAE as Abu Dhabi seeks to review labour relations with countries reluctant to take back expats
The Supreme Court of India has reportedly urged Indians to stay put where they are and adjourned the hearing of all the petitions related to their evacuation for a month.
Living in a labour camp 250 kilometres away from Abu Dhabi, 42-year-old mechanical technician Hitendra Solanki spends his days on phone tracking every piece of news on the coronavirus situation. Solanki who hails from Kutch is among thousands of Indian workers stranded in the UAE even after their work visa expired. Thankfully, for Solanki, his company has allowed him to live in the camp but he is itching to go back home to his ailing mother, wife and three children.
“My old visa expired on 14 January 2020, but my company did not tell me that my new visa was rejected and I continued working,” Solanki said adding that he still hasn’t received his salary for the last two months.
Tweeting their troubles
With over 3.4 million Indians in the UAE, it is no surprise that many are stuck due to the lockdown in India. The Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Indian Consulate in Dubai have received requests from over a thousand Indian nationals that include visitors, jobseekers and those who lost their jobs. Many have taken to Twitter to post their grievances.
“I am stuck in Dubai without employment and request your help for the flight to Bangalore. I have self-quarantined, and healthy,” read a tweet from Pradeep Kumar. Another Indian national Pallavi Saxena tweeted, “Stranded here…want to go back to India soon please help.”
Yet another user wrote, “I am in the UAE and my visa is expired and I have my cancellation paper. In my home there senior citizens so I should be there this lock down times (sic).”
The Indian consulate has also received an additional request from an employer who has laid-off around a thousand Indian workers.
Consulate assisted a group of 15 Indian workers who are stranded in Ajman without employment. We provided them with food provisions through Indian Association, Ajman.
— India in Dubai (@cgidubai) April 10, 2020
(2/2) Food items were also arranged for some individuals and families in Deira, Bur Dubai and Hor al Anz. — India in Dubai (@cgidubai) April 11, 2020
We continue our work of assisting Indian nationals in this difficult time both directly and through community. Today we sent food provisions to a group of 200 workers in Al Quoz, thanks to generous support of a prominent community member. (1/2)
— India in Dubai (@cgidubai) April 11, 2020
Al-Ain based social worker and former general secretary of the Indian Social Centre Russell Mohamad points towards the plight of hundreds of school bus owners and drivers, who have been left high and dry with schools in the UAE opting for e-learning until September.
Mohamad says the schools have been asked to stop collecting transportation fees from parents and hence they have stopped paying the bus owners and the drivers. The UAE has the highest number of international schools in the Gulf -- 511 at the last count.
“The UAE government has clearly stated that travel arrangements for the expats who are COVID-19 negative can be made if they want to go home provided there is permission from the Indian government to let them land,” explains Mohamad adding that the Indian consulate or the Embassy should take this up with the government of India.
Mohamad cited the example of the Philippine Embassy, who is working on the repatriation of Filipino crew members stranded in ships at Abu Dhabi and other ports in the UAE. Filipino residents and visitors wanting to return have been told to coordinate with their respective embassies.
It is perhaps this dire situation that has led to the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE) in the UAE to make a startling announcement. The ministry is now reviewing its labour relations with partner countries.
A ministry official quoted by UAE’s official news agency WAM said the ministry is looking into revising current partnerships concerning labour relations with nations refusing to cooperate with evacuation measures undertaken by the UAE to repatriate private sector expatriates who wish to return home.
The official noted that the ministry's move comes after a number of countries did not respond to requests by their nationals to return home following the COVID-19 developments. The official stated that the options currently being studied include halting of any memoranda of understanding between the ministry and the concerned authorities of non-cooperative countries as well as the introduction of restrictions or quotas for future recruitment.
This even as the Supreme Court of India has said that repatriating the overseas Indians now would be a violation of the COVID-19 travel restrictions imposed by the Central government. The apex court has reportedly urged Indians to stay put where they are and adjourned the hearing of all the petitions related to their evacuation for a month.
Back in the UAE, the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Indian Consulate in Dubai have maintained that so far they have not received any official communication from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MOFAIC) regarding the revision of labour relations with India. Both the missions have opened 24x7 helplines to assist stranded Indian nationals.
Compounding the frustration is the struggle by many in the diaspora to convince family and friends in India to abide by basic social distancing and masking protocols
While Kerala entered a 15-day COVID-19-induced lockdown from today, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu have decided to impose similar stricter restrictions from 10 to 24 May to curb the spread of the coronavirus
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