Gulf has been the chosen destination of average Malayalee for more than half a century. Kerala’s economy thrived with NRI money as it receives around Rs.60,000 crore foreign exchange annually from its 2.2 million strong NRI community. Political leaders and policy makers including the Prime Minister had praised them for contributing in the economic growth of the country in Pravasi Bharatiya meets. But the poor NRKs (non-resident Keralites), who constitute 70 per cent of the community, never attended pravasi meets where they can be proud and honourable.
They donated their hard earned money to the politicians without party colour who visit them frequently during the elections. They believed the politicians who offered too much and delivered nothing to them because they had no time or energy left after toiling in the deserts for making their families comfortable back home. Now they realise that they are being cheated as thousands of them were deported after Kingdom of Saudi Arabia enforced strict Nitaqat labour laws from 27 March 2013.
According to Shamseer Mohammed who reached Kozhikode airport on 28 March, the home department of KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) have started raids in the labour camps and detained more than 1000 expatriates including Indians since Thursday evening.
“I’ve been working in Saudi for almost 8 years as a salesman in a small shop. Now such jobs are reserved only for Saudis as the government is going to implement strict labour laws called Nitaqat. If I had stayed in Saudi, I would have been arrested. So I took the first flight back home,” said 31-year old Shamseer.
His passport has been stamped with exit and he may not be able to return to Saudi again.
“I will try to get another visa to another place. What I will do here? ” lamented Shamseer who hails from Nilambur. The exodus from Saudi has started as hundreds of expats reached airports in Kerala with carry bags and the state received them with empty hands. No politicians greeted them on arrival.
“We have been living in Saudi with fear for the last one year. Two years ago, Saudi government announced that it’s going to enforce Nitaqat laws in unskilled and semi skilled labour sector, we all knew that we would have to return one day. But we hoped Indian government would do something to save us. But India never came for our rescue,” said Shabeer ali who returned on 26 March, before the deadline.
It’s a classic example of how politicians deal with a major crisis that’s going to affect minimum one lakh Keralaites working in Saudi Arabia.
Chief Minister Oommen Chandy shot a letter to the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh seeking his intervention in the matter on 27 March.
In his letter to the Prime Minister, Chandy appealed to the Saudi Authorities to give a breathing space for expats before implementing Nitaqat. He also wanted to avoid immediate deportations.
“Kindly intervene in this matter and use our cordial relation with Kingdom of Saudi Arabia authorities. So that they may take a liberal approach regarding the implementation of Nitaqat,” Chief Minister pleaded.
The letter of Chief Minister reflects the grave concern of people of Kerala. But his last minute letter is certainly not going to change the fate of poor NRIs who are going to be deported from KSA within a week.
Many people ridiculed the way both state and central governments dealt with the crisis. Their responses were idiotic and casual.
Vayalar Ravi, Union Minister for Pravasi Welfare told the media that he had directed the Ambassador of Saudi to intervene in the matter and help the NRIs who are facing deportation. But Ravi, one of the senior most leaders of Congress party, has no clue how many of them are going to return immediately.
E. Ahamed, Union Minister of state, who represents NRI belt in Malappuram, held discussions with Saudi foreign affairs Minister and got few assurances. But God knows what assurances Ahmed got from him. He too is playing the role of a good samaritan for the television channels.
“I feel disgusted with many politicians when I watch television. It’s a fact that we all knew that Saudis are going to implement strict labour laws from 27 March. But our governments have done nothing to help the poor people who were working in Saudi Arabia. All ministers would have rushed to Saudi if the government had banned some rich businessman for his wrong doings. The big statements of all these leaders are only a political treachery,” said PT Kunju Muhammed, noted film maker and an expert on pravasi affairs.
“Majority of the people working in Saudi Arabia are very poor, earning between Rs 6000 and 12000 monthly. Many of them do not have valid work permits. They remain there due to their family commitments,” said Kunju Muhammed.
The ground situation tells their sad fate and bleak future. According to the Migration survey conducted by Centre for Development Studies Thiruvananthapuram, around 2.28 million NRKs are working abroad and 5,74,739 people from Kerala are working in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and 8,83,313 are working in UAE and another 1,27,782 are in Kuwait.
“Among them, around 100,000 persons from Malappuram and Kozhikode districts are going to lose their jobs due to Nitaqat. Now Kuwait is also going to implement similar laws. At least one lakh families in the two districts are going to be affected. It’s serious situation,” said A Vijayaraghavan, CPIM Central Committee member who is in charge of Pravasi affairs of the party.
According to him, rehabilitation of gulf returnees should be the priority of the government.
“The government should offer free flight tickets to the deported expats from Kerala as they have no money to pay for their tickets. Certainly rehabilitation of gulf returnees is the second priority. I was told that Indian Embassy is doing nothing to help them,” said Vijayaraghavan.
While the UPA government battles for survival, who has the time for poor expats who are facing severe Nitaqat laws.