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Stranded Migrants in Oman Endure Abominable Conditions

On January 29, 2013

“We are willing to jump in front of a running vehicle because we have nowhere to go, we don’t get respect anywhere, no one listens to us, neither the Indian embassy nor police and not even labour department,”

Gulf News found nearly 100 undocumented and absconded workers living in poverty near Muscat. The migrants are “living in inhumane conditions either at abandoned farm houses or near make-shift dumping areas.” sleeping on cardboard boxes and amongst refuse. One migrant Gulf News encountered appeared to exhibit characteristics of trauma, sitting alone and speaking very little.

One of the workers, K. Balanarsu, had not been paid a salary for over a year, while others had escaped similarly exploitative conditions. The absence of sufficient mechanisms to redress abuse, nonpayment, and other employment issues forced migrants to abscond and to bear such wretched conditions. Some of the workers had tried to lodge complaints with the Labour department but were refused aid. One migrant, Mohan Jangam, recalled “There was no respect for us when we approached the Labour department in Ruwi…” Another migrant recalled that a group had even turned themselves into a police station, hoping to be arrested and deported. But they were still turned away.

The sponsorship system’s deficiencies are also to blame for the plight of these workers. Several of the workers were cheated by recruitment agencies,who charged illegal and exorbitant fees for employment visas. One migrant also recounted that his employer witheld his passport, essential for repatriation, until he paid him a fee. Additionally, a few of the workers have overstayed their visas, but all have difficulty finding freelance jobs as Oman has intensified crackdowns on work that falls out of the confines of the sponsorship system.

The majority of these workers want to be repatriated but have been abandoned by Oman and their respective nations (in this case, most have migrated from India); Jangam had applied for Oman’s 2010 amnesty, but has still not been awarded the means to leave. The Indian embassy insisted that Balanarsu pay Dh23,850 in order to faciliate his repatriation - fees he and many migrant workers could not afford. The same issue has also arisen during the UAE’s own Amnesty period: though the UAE waived its own costs as a component of the amnesty, migrants were forced to pay inflated fees for the Indian embassy to process their applications. An Indian rights group launched a complaint on behalf of migrant workers who have not received adequate support to obtain repatriation.

The insufferable conditions these migrants are facing are effects of both the sponsorship system and under-regulation of the migrant worker sector. Neither Oman nor India are willing to take responsibility for these workers, who are forced to suffer indefinitely unless they take immediate action.