Indian minister calls for urgent repatriation of migrant workers in 'inadequate' UAE amid coronavirus crisis

Indian minister calls for urgent repatriation of migrant workers in 'inadequate' UAE amid coronavirus crisis
3 min read
14 April, 2020
Around three million Indian citizens work in the UAE, often living and working in overcrowded and unsanitary conditions.
Migrant workers in the dormitory of a labour camp outside Abu Dhabi [Getty]
The chief minister of India's Kerala state has urged the repatriation of thousands of Indian workers in the United Arab Emirates, slamming the Gulf state's "inadequate" response to the coronavirus crisis.

In a letter sent to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said he had received multiple complaints over "inadequate isolation and quarantine facilities" in the UAE.

"Most of these requests convey that preventive measures and quarantine methods implemented in Dubai are neither effective nor adequate," Vijayan said in the letter seen by Al Jazeera.

Around three million Indians work in the UAE, according to the United Nations. Nearly a million of the Indian citizens working in the Emirates are from the south-western state of Kerala.

The Gulf state has been routinely criticised by rights groups for its treatment of migrant workers, the majority of whom hail from South Asia.

"The majority of Keralites are blue collar workers and living in crowded facilities in Dubai," Vijayan wrote. "Therefore the probability of spreading the disease is very high." 

Read more: As coronavirus hits the Gulf don't forget about migrant workers

In a second letter shared by on his Twitter page on Monday, the Kerala chief minister urged the government to consider the repatriation of Indian citizens from the UAE.

"We have assured that testing and quarantine needs of the Keralites who are returning will be undertaken by the State Government," Vijayan added.

The Dubai-based Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre last week filed a petition in an Indian High Court calling on the government to take action.

"We know of 10,000 people just from Kerala who want to come back home," Haris Beeran, a lawyer representing the petitioners, told the UAE-based The National newspaper.

"Many workers no longer have jobs [and] some people are on visit visas that have expired. They don't have any means to live in the UAE and would rather return to their family at this time."

Abu Dhabi on Sunday warned of possible action against countries refusing to repatriate migrant workers, Reuters reported.

"Several countries have not been responsive about allowing back their citizens who have applied to return home under the current circumstances," the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation was quoted as saying.

However, India's ambassador to the UAE has said repatriation will not be possible until after the country's nationwide lockdown has been lifted.

"Once the lockdown in India is lifted, we will certainly help them get back to their hometowns and their families," Ambassador Pavan Kapoor told the UAE-based Gulf News on Saturday.

The UAE has reported more than 4,500 confirmed Covid-19 cases, including 25 deaths.

Read more: Trapped in Lebanon: Fears of abuse for migrant domestic workers amid Covid-19 lockdown

Foreign workers make up around 80 percent of the Gulf state's population.

As elsewhere in the Gulf and wider Middle East, migrant workers from Africa and Asia face widespread exploitation and alleged abuse in the UAE.

Critics of the Kafala system which governs the lives of migrant workers in the region have warned that overcrowded and unsanitary housing conditions for migrant manual labourers could serve as a fertile breeding ground for the highly contagious coronavirus.

Such housing has reportedly been the epicentre of a Covid-19 outbreak in Saudi Arabia's Mecca, according to Bloomberg.

Migrant domestic workers in Lebanon have meanwhile reported an uptick in abuse and failure to pay wages amid the crisis.

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