NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the United Arab Emirates has failed, despite the hype, to address the hopes and expectations of the huge Indian labour migrants. Their long standing grievances were not taken up with the UAE during the visit, despite the number of agreements inked between the two sides.

The UAE has a substantial presence of the Indian expat community who are categorised as Non –Resident Indians (NRIs). The Indian community of the UAE sends out nearly about $13 billion as remittance annually. According to the report of the Centre for Development Studies based in Thiruvananthapuram, the United Arab Emirates hosts about 20 lakh Indian Migrants who have been drawn mainly from the Southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra pradesh, Telangana and Karnataka. A fairly substantial number also come from Goa, Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

It is important to note that the unskilled labourers are not permitted to bring in their family members ,with the exception of white collar workers. None of the categories can obtain naturalization or permanent citizenship despite living and working in the UAE for many decades. They remain labelled as ‘guest workers’.

The UAE is no longer an oasis for Indian labour migrants, and is becoming increasingly hostile due to its changing foreign migrant policies. Instead in recent years, the UAE government has invested in the ;Emiratisation strategy’ to bring in its own nationals as the primary work force. Job quotas have been introduced in the private sector as well as the public sector for its nationals.

The illiterate unskilled migrant labourers have been facing various kinds of human rights violations and exploitation at the hands of their employers. The Indian government has entered into bilateral labour agreements with the UAE earlier but this has not alleviated the migrants distress.

India had considered the ‘right to vote’ for the Indian migrants in the Gulf region as they send a large remittance and cannot become the citizens of the country where they have lived for many years. This measure was announced at the fourth Pravasi Bharatiya Divas (PBD) in Hyderabad, January 2006, and reaffirmed in the eighth PBD in Delhi , January, 2010. It was expected that this would be in operation for the 2014 general elections. But it has not happened.

On the second leg of his visit to Dubai, PM Modi announced the launch of the E-migrate portal named ‘Madad’ to tackle the grievances of the distressed workers in the Indian community reception called Marhabo Modi’(welcome Modi) at the Dubai Sports complex to the packed gathering nearly about 50,000. According to a report in Khaleej Times, the ‘eMigrate system’ developed glitches and was non-functional for some time. Reports suggest that it has not taken off in any substantial way with most of the unskilled and illiterate labourers unable to make use of the internet portal.

The illegal recruitment continues the same way as it was earlier. Reports of massive fraud involving unskilled labour who are taken to the UAE under false pretext of lucrative jobs, find the reality to be very different. Many of them also land in jail because of wrong travel documents. Employers take away their passports, do not renew it, so they virtually become prisoners without the documentation necessary to travel. They also lose their local status, and are fined or jailed for no fault of their own.

PM Modi did not dwell on these major issues, with the visit making no difference to the lives of the Indian poor labour migrants.

(The writer works extensively on the Indian diaspora)