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Pravasalokam: Kerala's hit TV show on missing Gulf migrants

On May 4, 2014

Pravasalokam, which means 'migrants' world' in Malayalam, is a popular TV show from Kerala, India, that airs appeals for workers who have gone missing in the Gulf states. Started in 2000 by TV journalists Rafeek Ravuther and Anasudhin Azeez, the programme now  receives up to 20 requests for help a week from the families of missing migrant workers.

You can watch some of the episodes here.

Families who want to be featured on the show are interviewed on TV, giving details about the missing relative such as the last time they heard from them, their occupation and personal habits.  A picture of the missing relative shown in the background.

After interviewing family members on TV, the show's crew then work with embassies and consulates in the Gulf to try to locate the worker and provide them with assistance to return home. Ravuther and his team also have on an extensive network of local contacts, mostly Keralan migrant workers, across the Gulf countries, who provide information  - and whose identities remain strictly confidential.

"So far the programme has tracked down 530 missing people (out of around 1500 cases) in the Gulf and provided all the legal, consular and travel assistance to them to reunite with their families" said Ravuther.

The show has encountered a wide range of situations: migrants who have run out of money, who have been detained at their sponsor's house, and a running total of 480 who have been imprisoned during their time abroad.

Sex trafficking is behind a large number of female disappearances: "Even though the Arab states are following strict Islamic Sharia’t laws, they are havens for human traffickers. Hundreds of Keralite women were trapped in sex rackets by unscrupulous  sponsors and their agents. Due to the stigma attached to the sex work in India, they won't reveal their plight to their relatives. They have no other option to obey the orders of the brothel owners. Sex is a taboo subject in the Arab states and hardly anybody has any knowledge about safe sex. They will be forced to return once they were physically unfit. Most of them will land in the red light districts back home" Ravuther said.

An estimated three million Keralans work in the Gulf states. Most are unskilled workers from lower income backgrounds, and have often taken on large loans in order to migrate: "pawning the house or selling a wife's jewellery are the two common ways that migrants raise money in Kerala" he explained.

So, after running for over 14 years, what is next for Pravasalokam?

Ravuther is now in the process of registering a charitable trust that can provide more 'systematic' help to the migrant workers featured on the show, and that will follow up on pending cases. Check back at Migrant Rights soon for more details.