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South Asian Migrant crisis

South Asian Migrant crisis

UPSC CSE Mains Syllabus: GS-2-  Welfare schemes for vulnerable sections of the population by the Centre and States and the
performance of these schemes; mechanisms, laws, institutions and Bodies constituted for the
protection and betterment of these vulnerable sections.

South Asian Migrant crisis

  • The South Asia-Gulf migration corridor is among the largest in the world.
  • South Asians account for nearly 15 million in the Gulf.
  • The South Asian labour force forms the backbone of the Gulf economies.
  • However, the current COVID-19 pandemic has exposed their vulnerabilities.

Problems faced by them:

  • But they had to go knocking on doors for food and other basic necessities. The pandemic, the shutdown of companies, the tightening of borders, and the exploitative nature of the Kafala sponsorship system have all aggravated the miseries of South Asian migrant workers.
  • They have no safety net, social security protection, welfare mechanisms, or labour rights.
  • The events are reminiscent of the plight of migrant labourers who had been evacuated during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

India specific:

  • In the initial days of the lockdown, the Kerala government was requested to send regular medicines for lifestyle diseases.
  • Since medicines are expensive in the GCC countries, migrants often procure them from India.
  • However, the suspension of flights caused an acute shortage of medicines, and exposed the frail medical insurance system in the GCC for these workers.
  • Now, thousands have returned home empty-handed from the host countries.
  • Indians constitute the largest segment of the South Asian workforce.
  • Gulf migration is predominantly a male-driven phenomenon.
  • A majority of the migrants are single men living in congested labour camps.
  • They share rooms and toilets, to save earnings to send back home.
  • The COVID-19 spike in these labour camps has mainly been due to overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions.
  • However, as the COVID-19 crisis and response unfolded in the Gulf countries, the most neglected segment turned out to be the migrant women.
  • They were domestic workers, whose untold miseries have increased in the present volatile situation.
  • The Indian missions, with their inadequate administrative personnel, could not adequately cater to the needs of the migrants.
  • The situation forced the Indian government to repatriate the NRIs through the Vande Bharat Mission.
  • The Indian government has repatriated over 7.88 lakh NRIs from various destinations.

Rehabilitate, reintegrate, and resettle:

The countries of origin are now faced with the challenge of rehabilitating, reintegrating, and resettling these migrant workers.

  • To facilitate this, the Indian government has announced ‘SWADES’. Under this, skill mapping of citizens returning from abroad will be undertaken.
  • Kerala has announced ‘Dream Kerala’ to utilise the multifaceted resources of the migrants.
  • Bangladesh has announced a special package for the resettlement. It includes money on arrival, money to launch self-employment projects, and compensation for the families of those who died abroad from COVID-19.
  • The Overseas Employment Corporation in Pakistan has come out with special programmes to upgrade the skills of returnees.

Anti-migrant sentiment in the Gulf:

  • Meanwhile, in the GCC countries, the movement for nationalisation of labour and the anti-migrant sentiment have peaked.
  • Countries like Oman and Saudi Arabia have provided subsidies to private companies to prevent native lay-offs.
  • However, the nationalisation process is not going to be smooth given the stigma attached to certain jobs and the influence of ‘royal sheikh culture’.

Dilemma for South Asia:

Countries that are sending migrant workers abroad are caught between the promotion of migration, on the one hand, and the protection of migrant rights in increasingly hostile countries receiving migrants, on the other.

Way forward:

  • The Kerala High Court issued notice to the Central and State governments on a petition seeking to set up a mechanism to assist NRIs who had lost their jobs abroad and had returned to India, to seek due compensation.
  • A comprehensive migration management system for countries that send workers as well as those that receive them.
  • No South Asian country except Sri Lanka has an adequate migration policy.
  • The pandemic has given us an opportunity to voice the rights of South Asian migrants and to bring the South Asia-Gulf migration corridor within the ambit of SAARC, the ILO, and UN conventions.

Source:”Indian Express”.


The South Asian, especially Indian, labour force forms the backbone of the Gulf economies; however, they now face various problems due to the COVID – 19 pandemic. Elaborate. What efforts are needed to effectively prevent a migrant crisis?