MEA official says illegal emigration cause of high suicide rate among Indians in Gulf; activists say there's more to it

In 2017 alone, 322 Indians committed suicide in four Gulf nations, higher than the 303 recorded in 2016. As Firstpost reported on 14 July, these figures were revealed in a response to a Right to Information query from the Indian embassies in Dubai, Muscat, Kuwait and Riyadh. The highest number of suicides was recorded in Saudi Arabia at 117, followed closely by the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with 116. In Oman, 46 Indians committed suicide, and in Kuwait, 43.

Responding to the Firstpost story on social media, India's top immigration official — MC Luther, the Protector General of Emigrants under the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) — said many of these suicides were the result of illegal emigration through touts.

 MEA official says illegal emigration cause of high suicide rate among Indians in Gulf; activists say theres more to it

Representational image. Reuters

In response to a question raised in Parliament on 4 April, the MEA had said that the government often receives complaints from emigrants and their family members in the Gulf of being cheated by illegal recruitment agencies. "Such complaints are forwarded to the concerned state governments and police authorities, urging them to apprehend illegal agents and prosecute them," the MEA reply said. "Since illegal and fake agencies operate from the territories within the states, the state governments must promptly stop the illegal activities of such fake agencies and prosecute them, after investigations."

After receiving requests from state governments, the MEA issues prosecution sanctions. "Wherever required, such complaints are also referred to missions and posts abroad to provide immediate relief and rescue distressed emigrants who were recruited by such fake agencies," the reply added.

In 2017, the MEA had forwarded cases against 446 such fake agencies to state governments. Of the lot, 94 cases were forwarded to the Delhi administration, which topped the list, followed by Uttar Pradesh with 79 cases.

To raise awareness on safe and legal emigration, the MEA had launched an awareness campaign with the tagline "Surakshit Jao, Parishikshit Jao" in both print and visual media in various languages. The campaign had also emphasised that citizens heading overseas for jobs must approach only registered recruitment agents that help with emigration, not the fake ones.

On 26 May, 2016, the government had issued a Standard Operating Procedure for state governments to follow after receiving such complaints. It had also requested states to periodically launch campaigns in the media in regional languages to build awareness among people on the dangers of illegal recruitment agencies.

The MEA has also held two high-level meetings with the non-resident Indian (NRI) departments of all state governments to sensitise them on the need to take prompt action on complaints received against illegal recruiting agents. During these meetings, the Union ministry handed over its media awareness campaign in different languages to the state NRI ministers and other senior officials, requesting them to spread the word through local media, too.

Illegal emigration not the sole cause of high suicide rate among Indians

Meanwhile, Rafeek Ravuther, director of the Centre for Indian Migrant Studies, said there was more to the suicides among Indians in Gulf countries that just illegal emigration. "It takes only a few minutes for a regular Indian migrant to become an irregular migrant," he said. "It all depends on the 'mood' of an employer. In a majority of the cases, the irregular migrants are deprived of their basic human rights, which leads them to depression and to adopt drastic steps like suicide. So we should ensure safe migration, and at the same time, we should also make sure that our migrants in foreign land are not deprived of their rights."

According to migrant rights activists in India and the Gulf, loss of employment, the process of nationalisation and regional political tensions have led to depression among Indians and eventually suicides.

Sister Josephine Valarmathi from the National Domestic Workers' Movement said there are hundreds of Indian workers struggling to get by in Qatar as they have not been paid in months. "There is a case of 80 (Indian) workers stranded in Qatar for months without salary," she said. "They have been running from pillar to post to get justice. Many are troubled mentally and disappointed. They are not getting proper justice and help from the Indian authorities in Qatar either. So if they think of suicide, can we blame them?"

Data from the Indian government revealed that the number of emigration clearances granted to Indians headed to the Gulf for employment halved to 3.7 lakh in 2017 from 7.6 lakh in 2015. In 2017, UAE emerged as the most-preferred destination of Indian workers, with nearly 1.5 lakh emigration clearances. Saudi Arabia relinquished its status as the most-preferred destination among Indian workers with around 78,000 emigration clearances in 2017, a 74 percent drop from around 3 lakh in 2015.

The nationalisation drive adopted by the Gulf countries, aimed at promoting job opportunities for local residents, is believed to be the reason for the fall in jobs for migrants.

However, a World Bank report reveals that India continued to be the top recipient of remittances from overseas, which added up to nearly $69 billion in 2017. About 56 percent of the total came from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, UAE and Oman, all members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The author is a member of The NewsCart, a Bengaluru-based media startup

Updated Date: Jul 18, 2018 13:33:35 IST