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Indian migrant workers from Kerala face chronic rights abuses abroad

Amnesty International India report cites physical abuse and deception by agents recruiting for jobs in Saudi Arabia

  • ucanews.com reporter, Thiruvananthapuram
  • India
  • July 4, 2014
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Migrants from Indian's southern Kerala state working in Saudi Arabia are “vulnerable to serious human rights violations”, according to a new report released on Friday by the rights group Amnesty International India.

The report, Exploited Dreams: Dispatches from Indian migrant workers in Saudi Arabia, released in the Kerala capital Thiruvananthapuram, documents the exploitation and deception of workers by agents in India as well as employers in Saudi Arabia.

“Indian migrant workers’ miseries start from the day of the recruitment to Saudi Arabia, as many of them pay more than 200,000 Indian rupees (US$3,400) to get a free job visa which does not guarantee a regular employment. But the Indian government does nothing to protect the rights of the migrant workers from human rights abuses including forced labor and human trafficking,” the report said, referring to corruption in the granting of work visas.

G Ananthapadmanabhan, chief executive of Amnesty International India, said Indian workers from Kerala in Saudi Arabia, which number more than half a million, were often at the mercy of their employers.

“Many workers complained that they were forced to work 15 to 18 hours a day without a day off. The majority of them do not get their salaries, and some of them were not paid for several months by their employers in Saudi Arabia,” Ananthapadmanabhan told ucanews.com.

“Migrant workers send billions of dollars in remittances every year to India and sustain thousands of families. Yet Indian authorities continue to let them down when they are abused. It is time that migrant workers’ rights get the protection they deserve,” he added.

A spokesperson at the Ministry of External Affairs acknowledged on Friday “there are certain issues relating to labor contracts in Gulf countries” but added that the Indian government “was committed to protecting the interests of the workers there”. 

VK Sashikumar, deputy chief executive officer of Amnesty International India, said workers also faced physical abuse and were sometimes treated like hostages.

“Some were subjected to threats and beatings by their employers, had their passports and residency permits confiscated and were denied exit permits to return home,” he said.

The Indian Emigration Act governs the recruitment of Indian migrant workers, including by mandating government certification for recruiting agents, and setting up Protector of Emigrants offices to regulate them.

However, Amnesty International India’s report found evidence of recruiting agents violating emigration laws and policies, including failure to ensure that migrant workers were not deceived.

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