We’re groping in dark on issues facing Indians in Middle East: Expert

Thiruvananthapuram: For want of a systematic study of the crisis facing the Indian diaspora in the Middle East, the government has little information, even on basic things like how many Indians have returned home, an expert has said.

“Today everyone asks me how many have returned following the various issues in the Middle East. The answer is I don’t know because such things can be ascertained only after a study,” S. Irudayarajan, who heads the migration department at the Centre for Development Studies here, told IANS.

“Now with these questions increasing, I have started to do a quick estimate and it would take a month for the first results to emerge,” said Irudayarajan.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said on July 30 that the government was making efforts to bring back over 10,000 Indian workers rendered jobless in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and was providing them food in camps.

She also appealed to “30 lakh Indians in Saudi Arabia” to help “your fellow brothers and sisters”.

Her ministry said on Tuesday that 7,700 laid-off Indian workers in Saudi Arabia have been sheltered in camps and that information about more workers in distress is being collected.

Irudayarajan said the government finds itself without the necessary information in crisis situations because it has not instituted any regular study to frame short- and long-term policies as far as the diaspora is concerned.

“The time has come to institute an annual review. There is no point framing policies after things turn bad. At the moment no one knows if this is just a passing phenomenon or not,” he said.

India’s ignorance of short-term issues arises from a failure to take into account the long-term social and economic changes that have taken place in the Middle East, such as the the education profile of the local population there, said Irudayarajan.

“When migration from here began in the 1970s, education of the Middle Eastern nationalities was poor, but today the local youth are all educated and hence there is a job crunch, which is only natural.”

The situation is similar to the expression of resentment against “non-Maharashtrians” living and working in Mumbai, said Irudayarajan, who has been doing studies of migration from India every five years since 1998.

He did his last study in 2013 whose findings were published in 2014. Things have changed dramatically since.

“Today it’s a double crisis in the Middle East: oil prices have had a free fall and unemployment of their nationals is slowly reaching double digits, which hitherto was in single digits,” said Irudayarajan.

According to Irudayarajan’s latest published study, 90 per cent of Kerala’s 23.63 lakh diaspora are in various Middle-East countries, of which UAE accounts for 38.7 percent of the Kerala emigrants followed by Saudi Arabia which has 25.2 per cent.

The price of oil, on which the Middle-eastern economies depend heavily, has crashed from US$104 in May 2014 and now hovering around US $40.

The deposits of non-residents in Kerala banks touched Rs 1,27,997 crore, up from Rs 1,17,349 crore, as on June 30, 2015, according to the latest State Level Bankers Committee (SLBC) report.