Friday, 2 March 2007

Dubai: Shattered Dreams Of Andhra Migrant Labour - I

Deccan Chronicle/Asian Age, March 9, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Dubai, March 8: As the mosques that dot the landscape of Dubai reverberate with the call for the pre-dawn Fajr prayers, thousands of young people line up outside numerous labour camps in search of daily labour.
Before the dawn break out, dozens of buses arrive, one after other, and the line grows shorter. By 6 am, the entire crowd disappears and the labour camps wear a deserted look, only to brim back with activity after 9.00 pm.
This is the daily routine outside the so-called labour camps, which house illegal migrant workers, mostly from Karimnagar and Nizamabad districts in Andhra Pradesh.
With the "Kalli Valli" (illegal in local language) tag attached to their names, these migrant workers spend life in Dubai searching for work on daily basis.
Since they lack legal migrant worker status they are not assured of regular
employment. They are hired on daily basis and paid wages per each hour they work, with no medical facility or labour rights protection.
Sandagari Sai Reddy, 25, a migrant worker from Nizamabad, stands as the tall example of how Kalli Valli workers are exploited by construction firms.
Sai Reddy came to Dubai two years ago and after undergoing untold sufferings he wants to return to India. He suffered a fracture at a construction site and is now confined to a wheel chair. He was admitted in Rashidiya Hospital and was discharged last week. But the hospital authorities do not want to send Sai Reddy out of the hospital as he had not cleared 7000 Dirhams medical bill.
With Dubai becoming the fastest growing city on the earth with an unparalleled boom in the construction industry, unscrupulous recruitment agents and so-called manpower companies have turned this bustling city of high-rise buildings and wide roads into a haven for illegal migrant workers.
And the victims are mostly from the backward areas of Nizamabad and Karimnagar and some hail from neighbouring Warangal and Adilabad districts in Telangana region.
Investigations by this newspaper revealed that more than four lakh Telugu-
speaking construction workers are held up in Dubai, Sharjah, Abu Dhabi and other Emirates in UAE as illegal migrants thanks to the well-chalked out strategy by recruiting agents, construction companies and UAE officials to pump in cheap labour to sustain the construction boom.

Of the four lakh and odd Telugu illegal migrants in UAE, a whopping 3.7 lakh do not posses passports and hence no national identity, except the Telugu language they speak. The common complaint is that recruiting agents had taken away their passports on arrival in UAE. Neither they do possess any documents that establish their nationality or bring them under the purview of the UAE labour laws for compensation, in case of injury or death at the work place.
"All my dreams have been shattered. Now I am not in a position to stand, let alone resume work at construction site. My employer does not want to bear the medical expenses as I am a Kalli Valli. Unless I pay 7000 Dirhams (Rs 84,000) the hospital will not allow me to leave the country. Moreover, I have to obtain emergency certificate from the Indian Consulate and pay penalty to UAE authorities for overstay. I will have to bear the cost of air ticket. I came to Dubai after borrowing Rs 1 lakh and I am yet to clear the debt," Sai Reddy
points out.
Like Sai Reddy, Kalli Valli workers cannot leave UAE for the simple reason that they do not have passports. Some of them have been staying in Dubai for as long as 12 years without hope of ever returning to India. Dudekula Shaik Saheb has been visiting the Indian Consulate in Dubai for the last six months.
He has completed 12 years of over stay in Dubai and wants to return home. But the main hurdle in his journey back to India is the passport, which he had given away to his agent long back.
The Indian Embassy allows Kalli Valli workers to travel to India only in emergency situations provided they prove they are Indians. Coming from lower strata of society and steeped in illiteracy, it takes years for some of the illegal migrant workers to prove their nationality.
That only 4000 "Out Passes" or "Emergency Certificates" were issued by Indian Consulate in Dubai last year, against more than four lakh illegal migrants in UAE, reveals the enormity of hurdles they face if they want to return to India.
Luckily for these migrant workers, the local police are not after them. The police do not swoop on illegal migrant workers for the simple reason that they contribute a lot to the economy of UAE and do not expect anything in return. Only those involved in theft, murder and other crimes are arrested and deported.
While a majority of the illegal migrant workers have been duped in by unscrupulous agents, a few thousands have voluntarily turned "illegal" by jumping their original employer to work as daily wagers at construction sites.
Interaction with over 200 migrant workers at labour camps in Al-Satwa, Rolla Square, Sonapur, Bur Dubai and Al-Khos revealed that recruiting agents are not always at fault. Though the agents are blamed for pumping in illegal workers to UAE as it offers them lucrative commission, in many cases the workers themselves are responsible for their plight and misery.
A Mallaiah from Nampally village of Vemulawada mandal in Karimnagar is a victim of recruitment scandal. He was lured with a promise of good job and comfortable stay but he faced reality only after he landed in Dubai. He has been working as illegal migrant worker for the past five years and now that he wants to go back to his village to perform the marriage of his daughter, he can't. Because he does not possess a passport. "I will commit suicide if you do not help me," he pleads with Indian Consulate officials.
Inquiries by this correspondent revealed that recruitment agents put two options before prospective migrant workers over the type of visa they would like to have to visit UAE. One is "employment visa" that costs more and the other "visit visa" that comes at a relatively cheaper rate. But the agents insist that the workers take the "visit visa". The visit visa saves the employer from legal and labour formalities in UAE.
Little do the workers know that this "visit visa" will later turn a bane for them when they really want to return home. The visit visa expires after 59 days (extendible by another 30 days) and after this the workers become illegal
migrants or "Kalli Valli".
The visit or "Kalli Valli" visa including the air fare costs anything between
Rs 50,000 and Rs 75,000 while the employment visa that guarantees legal migrant status comes for Rs 1,00,000 to Rs 1,50,000. Since most of the workers from Karimnagar, Nizamabad, Adilabad and Warangal districts hail from lower strata of society with poor financial backgrounds, they prefer to live illegally as Kalli Valli.
Enquiries revealed that some of the workers intentionally turn Kalli Valli even after gaining entry as legal migrants through employment visa. This is because the salaries offered by legal employers is only 450 to 500 UAE Dirhams while as Kalli Valli each worker earn 60 to 70 Dirhams a day or about 1800 Dirhams a month.
"What these workers fail to understand is that though they earn low wages as
legal migrants, they are eligible for health and labour benefits including
compensation in case of accidents. But unfortunately, the desire to earn more
makes these migrants to work as Kalli Valli," says an official of the Indian
Consulate.
The modus operandi is quite simple. After a worker on visit visa lands in Dubai, the agent takes away his passport and makes him Kalli Valli. Once the worker loses his passport he becomes an illegal migrant. With the passport goes away all the rights. He is not eligible for compensation in case of injuries or death in accident at the work site. The UAE labour or the immigration department does not recognise the rights of Kalli Valli workers.
Taking away of passport and turning workers Kalli Valli is a deliberate attempt on the part of the recruiting agents, bigwigs in the construction industry and the officials in the UAE government. Kalli Valli workers live on the constant threat of being arrested by the police. But their free movement and negligible number of arrests or detention by police give credence to the charge that the UAE government wants illegal workers to stay in Dubai and other Emirates to help the construction industry.
"Not only the Kalli Valli workers come as labour on hourly basis but also do not have any legal rights to claim compensation. This suits the booming construction industry in UAE as the employers can simply wash their hands off by paying Dirhams on hourly basis," points out social activist Uma Paddy, who has been counselling Kalli Valli workers for the past 10 years.
Since the Kalli Valli workers do not have passports or other legal documents that prove their legal status or national identity, employers exercise an unreasonable degree of control over them. It is interesting that though UAE courts have described the practice of taking away passports as illegal, the Emirates government has not initiated any steps to end this menace. Those who want to be deported to India need to surrender to immigration authorities in Dubai. But the authorities turn down Kalli Valli workers saying that the jails are full and there's no space to lodge more prisoners. This makes the process of leaving Dubai more difficult for illegal Indians.
"I have approached the immigration authorities at least half a dozen times. But they are not willing to imprison me. If they jail me, at least I can leave Dubai," says Dokuri Veera Reddy of Asireddypalli village in Karimnagar district. He preferred Mumbai airport to Hyderabad three years ago when he landed in Dubai in search of employment.

1 comment:

The Perpertual Foreigner said...

Thank you for a very thought provoking and disturbing article.
Thanks.

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