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Tag Archives | evacuation

Another diaspora conundrum-Saudi Arabia

Evacuations of expatriate Indians from foreign countries present our policymakers with tough questions and it is time that the Indian government sets out a clear cut policy

By Guru Aiyar(@guruaiyar)

The recent rescue operations by the Indian government from South Sudan looked like a well scripted Hollywood movie where the country comes to the rescue of its beleaguered citizens abroad. Within two weeks, another crisis looms in Saudi Arabia where Indian workers are reportedly living in sub human conditions. The Minister of External Affairs, General V.K.Singh (retd.) has already left for Saudi Arabia and has confirmed that 7700 workers are affected.

The above situation is nothing new. The expatriate workers from South and Southeast Asia belong to the cheap labour pool who work in sweatshop conditions. In 2006, 4000 South Asian labourers were deported by the United Arab Emirates on charges of vandalism when they were only protesting for fair wages and working conditions. The Indian government is signalling a very important message now. The message says that you can’t mess with the Indian workers. Providing food to the starving Indians in the camps is one thing. But to evacuate them back to India completely changes the dynamics of the situation.

There are approximately 3 million Indians in Saudi Arabia alone and about 7.3 million in West Asia. Mass evacuations using the military and commercial assets implies a huge cost to the exchequer. In this, using commercial assets is the best option. Military assets like naval ships and air force aircraft are much costlier (use of C-17 Globemaster costs US $ 24,000 per hour). Of course, it needs to be understood clearly that when human lives are at peril, no cost can be attached. In this particular situation, it can be said that workers cannot pay for their passage and thus it needs to be borne by the exchequer.

If cost-benefit analysis is to be the basis for evacuations, then the government must have contingency plans drawn up. West Asia is the most volatile of regions in the world. India has been involved in six evacuations within the last decade itself. Even geographically, the distance to Doha and Riyadh are less than 3000 km. I have argued in my earlier columns for evolving a strategic evacuation policy which calls for involving the commercial airlines and shipping. With Air India beset with its own travails, this has become imperative.

Diaspora politics can be extremely tricky and a veritable landmine for diplomatic and international relations. Should all the diaspora be treated with the same yardstick? Does a Non Resident Indian (NRI) blue collared worker surviving on the margins of host country deserve the same kind of treatment as a wealthy Indian billionaire based in North America or Europe? Does the Indian state bear any responsibility towards fifth or sixth generation naturalised Indians in Mauritius or Guyana? Should the Indian government evacuate Indians from Fiji if there is ethnic or racial violence? Or should it have a line that says that the Indian state is responsible only to ‘Indian passport’ holders and not others? These are the kind of questions that our policy makers in the ministry of external affairs ought to be grappling with. There are no easy answers. The final call lies with our elected politicians.

Guru Aiyar is a Research Fellow with Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar

 

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Towards a coherent government policy on diaspora security

The recent war of words between the state government of Kerala and the centre over evacuation of Indians from Libya highlights challenges of evolving a clear and coherent policy on diaspora security

By Guru Aiyar (@guruaiyar)

On 12th May, a group of Indians evacuated from the conflict zone of Libya were received by their family members at Cochin International Airport. They were evacuated as a life saving measure. Libya has been in the grip of a civil war since 2014. The two warring groups are the democratically elected and internationally recognised Libyan government and the rival Islamist group called the General Nationalist Congress (GNC).

What is appalling in this episode is the serious mistrust between the state government of Kerala and central government, specifically the ministry of external affairs. The Chief Minister of Kerala Mr. Oommen Chandy reportedly asserted that the centre only cared to ‘sympathise’ with the plight of stranded Indians.     Union Minister of external affairs Ms Sushma Swaraj took to twitter to criticise Chandy. The CM in turn alleged that he made numerous trips to Delhi to meet Ms Swaraj to seek central intervention for the return of the Indian citizens from Kerala. Reportedly, these citizens had chosen to stay back even after the centre had made arrangements for them to return. On surface, the face-off  seems politically motivated as Kerala heads towards assembly elections from May 16. But what is of interest is to ask the important question: what is the central government policy for security of Indian diaspora? Is there a response template with the MEA when it comes to such crises?

The question cannot be convincingly answered by anyone. But what can be achieved is to have a framework to situate the problem. The above instance can be analysed by understanding the concept of logic of commitment and the logic of exit defined by David Ellerman in The Dynamics of the Migration of the highly skilled(2004), a World Bank study.

Ellerman states

Every potential migrant faces a similar situation: to make a commitment to staying home and trying to improve it or to take its characteristics as given and search elsewhere for a new and better home. Economic models tend to model only the exit option, ignoring the possible logic of commitment, with its inherent uncertainties about the possibilities of transformation.”

Going by the ‘logic of exit’, the Non Resident Indians (NRIs) were skilled nurses who worked in a hospital in Libya. They left for greener pastures from a state which is well known for its high literacy rates. In March, a nurse and her son were killed in a rebel missile attack. The Indian government, through the ministry of external affairs, reportedly urged all the Indians to return. But the Indians who were staying in a camp in Tripoli said that they wanted the exit visa fine to be waived. In another twist to this episode, CM Chandy claimed that the state government wanted to pay the air fare but was prevented from doing so due to foreign exchange regulations.

What is very clear from the above is that there is no clear cut policy on evacuations of Indians from abroad. While the State Department of the United States has laid down clear guidelines for American citizens on what to expect during a crisis situation, a similar Indian policy, if it exists, cannot be found on the MEA website. It cannot be denied that the embassy staff abroad too will be under extreme stress in case of an emergency or a conflict situation. The evacuation of Indians have become increasingly challenging owing to various factors like host country politics and strife, geopolitical shifts, the Indian government’s stand on various issues, our own domestic politics etc. It is thus essential that the central government has a stated policy on diaspora evacuation.

 Guru Aiyar is Research Scholar in Takshashila Institution and tweets @guruaiyar.

 

 

 

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