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Amnesty: 'India continues to let down migrant workers'

On July 9, 2014

Amnesty International has urged the Indian government to do more to protect  Saudi - bound migrant workers from corrupt visa brokers and rogue recruitment agencies.

A new report, titled Exploited Dreams: Dispatches from Indian migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, takes a detailed look at the plight of workers from Kerala in Saudi Arabia.

The India-Saudi migration corridor is one of the most significant in the world - around 1000 workers are given emigration clearance to travel to country, according to the report. Poverty and unemployment have contributed to high rates of migration from India, particularly from the state of Kerala, where unemployment is currently 7.4% , compared with India's national average of 2.4%

Many of the 51 migrant workers interviewed for the study reported worked 15-18 hour days on arrival in Saudi, with no days off and no overtime. A high number ended up working in different jobs than those that they had initially agreed to, and one interviewee went without payment for nearly 18 months.

A large part of the problem is that many recruitment agents in India are not doing enough to protect migrant workers from abusive employment situations. Recruiters with authorisation from the Saudi consulate in Mumbai to conduct the visa application process (also called 'wakala holders') routinely fail to carry out due diligence on employers in Saudi Arabia, according to Amnesty. Agents interviewed by Amnesty said that they did not believe it was their responsibility to ensure that the workers they recruited had safe, fair employment in Saudi Arabia.

This is at odds with a government order from the Ministry of Overseas Indians, which states that recruiters sending workers overseas have to exercise the same due diligence that they would if they were recruiting for positions in India.

However, virtually no recruitment agents have been prosecuted for negligence.

Ananth Guruswamy, Chief Executive of Amnesty International India, said:

“Migrant workers send billions of dollars in remittances every year to India and sustain thousands of families. Yet the Indian authorities continue to let them down when they are abused.

“Migrant workers are vulnerable because of individual acts of deception, but also because policies and laws that regulate their recruitment are poorly designed and implemented.

“Systemic violations need to be met with systemic changes. The government must draft a new emigration law that is consistent with international human rights standards and aligned with progressive emigration management systems.”

PDF of the full report available here