The Gulf nations have the highest number of Indians who are jailed abroad, and many of them are blue-collar workers. According to a reply given by External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in the Lok Sabha recently, the Gulf nations account for nearly 45 per cent of the total 6,483 Indians who are jailed abroad. This figure is disproportionately high given the fact that Indians migrants to the Gulf make up only about 27 per cent of the total Indian diaspora.
Organisations working for migrants rights claim that the high number is because of a lackadaisical approach by the Indian government in providing help and legal aid to individuals, a majority of whom get caught in recruitment scams and end up in prison.
According to the reply given in the Lok Sabha, a total of 6,483 Indians are lodged in jails of 68 countries across the world. The highest number of Indians in jail are in Saudi Arabia — a total of 1,469. Seven other Gulf states, including UAE, Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Yemen, have a total of 2,906 Indian prisoners.
Interestingly, these eight countries have only 26.48 per cent of the 2.19 crore Indian diaspora, according to a report by the External Affairs Ministry.
The other countries which have a large population of Indian prisoners are Nepal (612), UK (437), Pakistan (421), Malaysia (334) and US (291).
“The major problem is that there are no proper statistics on the number of migrants in the country. Many of those who are arrested are victims of recruitment scams. They are taken on tourist visas and then asked to work there. The government has failed to create adequate awareness to ensure that people do not get trapped in these situations,” Kerala-based Sister Sally Michael, coordinator of the Migrants Forum India, said.
Organisations claim that the Central government is not proactive enough in addressing problems faced by blue-collar workers in the Gulf, who are often the ones who end up in prison.
Sister Sally claimed that there were not enough legal officers in various embassies and consulates to help those who find themselves in a legal mess.
Activists also point out that the Centre has not done enough for these workers, despite signing treaties to address the problem of prisoners. India and the UAE had signed a prisoner exchange deal in November 2011, which would allow Indian prisoners the choice to spend the remaining prison term in their own country.
“It has been three years since the treaty was signed, but not a single Indian prisoner has been able to benefit from it. The government seems to be unwilling to push the UAE in ensuring its implementation. It is more concerned about ensuring the well being of white-collar workers than the poor migrants who go there looking for jobs,” Narayana Swamy, president of the Telangana-based Migrants Rights Council, said.