Friday, 2 March 2007

Dubai: Shattered Dreams of Andhra Migrant Labour - VI

Published in The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle on March 14, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Dubai, March 13: The illegal migrant workers recruitment racket in Andhra Pradesh and UAE has wider security ramifications and senior officials in the Indian Consulate here fear massive security breach if the menace was not curbed forthwith.
Investigations by this newspaper revealed that a major "passport circulation" racket, involving Indian recruitment agents, local Arabs and UAE immigration officials, has been operational for quite some time in Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi. Officials fear that there would be major security risk to India, if the passports fall into wrong hands.
The modus operandi is quite simple. Once a person recruited as construction labour lands in UAE, his passport is confiscated by the local Arab agent. Another person is sent on the same passport to ensure that the immigration records are straight.
Since UAE government does not issue "Tourist Visa", any person intending to visit Dubai or other Emirates has to look for a local sponsor. Based on the local sponsor's recommendation, the UAE government issues "Visit Visa", valid for 59 days. Visit Visas are also issued to Indians without the sponsorship of locals provided the
applicant is an income tax payee and his or her annual income is at least Rs 2 lakh.
Since most of the illegal migrant construction workers are economically poor, they invariably need a local sponsor for the visit visa. The visit visa has to be "exited" within the stipulated period or otherwise the local sponsor will be held responsible for the overstay of the person. To ensure that the visa is "exited", the local agents send someone else on the same passport.
The argument generally put forward by illegal migrant workers and recruiting agents is that the Arabs manning the immigration and passport control desks do not distinguish between two Andhra faces.
"For them all Andhras look alike, just like Chinese or Japanese nationals look similar to us Indians. The agents also ensure that slight facial changes are made for a smooth sail through the passport control desk," an official of Indian Consulate in Dubai points out.
But what baffles authorities is how these people with fake passports manage to pass through the immigration officials back home in Hyderabad. "Do not those manning the immigration desks in Hyderabad make a distinction between two Andhra faces? This shows there is a clear nexus between immigration officials and recruiting
agents. But what these officials fail to recognise is that circulation of
passport is a national crime and pose security threat to India," says
social activist Gundaram Prasad, who has been fighting for the cause of
"Kalli Valli" (illegal) workers.
When the racket was brought to the notice of Indian Consul-General in Dubai Venu Rajamony, he said the menace had to be put to an end immediately. "It is a major crime and those involved in the racket should be exposed and punished," he added.
UAE laws prohibit employers from impounding the passports of workers, but this Rule is routinely breached. The moment a worker comes out of the immigration desk in Dubai international airport, the construction company or the recruiting agent takes away the passport.
In case of workers entering Dubai on valid employment visa, the passport is returned after the expiry of the contract period, which is generally two years.
But in the case of workers on a visit visa, the passport is never returned and they continue to work as illegal immigrants. Almost all the illegal immigrants from Andhra Pradesh do not have their passports and they complain that their agent had taken travel document away on arrival in Dubai. Ironically, the agent disappears once he dumps the workers at a labour camp, never to meet them again.
Enquiries revealed that the recruiting agents work hand-in-glove with immigration and security officials at airports both in UAE and back in India. They adopt two "foolproof" systems to circulate the passports and ensure that the emigration records are straight and clear.
In the first system, which involves no security threat to India, those in
the emigration section in the UAE simply mark "kharij" or exit in the official records against the visit visa concerned, though the person actually continues to stay in UAE.
This is done to ensure a fair record for the recruiting agent who sponsors visit visa. The agent has to ensure that the person he sponsors on a "visit" visa returns before the expiry of the visa period, which normally is 59 days. Money changes hands and the Emigration officer gets a handsome amount for each visit visa he marks "exit".
The second method, most commonly followed by agents in the UAE and which involves a grave security threat to India, is circulation of passports. The agent, who takes away the passport of illegal immigrant workers, sends someone else on the same document in connivance of UAE Emigration officials.
Whenever an illegal worker without a passport wants to return to India, he has two options before him. Approach the Indian Consulate in Dubai or the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi to obtain "Out Pass" or "Emergency Certificate" or simply pay money to unscrupulous travel agent and return to India on a fake passport. The second option seems to be easier as Indian officials take a long time to verify the antecedents
of the applicant before issuing the Out Pass.
UAE authorities have deliberately turned a blind eye to the problem because it suits their interests. Two general amnesty schemes were announced in the recent past and yet no mass drive has been taken up to flush out illegal labour or contain the problem. The reason? Illegal immigrants are a cheap source of labour for the mushrooming construction industry in the Emirates.

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Syed Akbar in an island in river Godavari with Papikonda hills in the background

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Syed Akbar at the 11th Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity