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OAS Mains Q&A: The South Asian migrant crisis


The pandemic crisis has deteriorated the condition of South Asian migrants in the GCC countries and poses new challenges for the countries of their origin. The precarious situation of the migrant labourers in West Asia forced the Indian government to repatriate the NRIs through the Vande Bharat Mission. The Indian government has repatriated over 7.88 lakh NRIs from various destinations. An increasing number of NRIs who have lost their jobs abroad have returned to India and have been seeking Government aid.


Discuss the challenges faced by the South Asian labour force in the GCC countries and suggest suitable policy measures.

Sample Answer

The South Asia-Gulf migration corridor is among the largest in the world. South Asians account for nearly 15 million in the Gulf.


  • The South Asian labour force forms the backbone of the Gulf economies, but has had to go knocking on doors for food and other basic necessities.
  • The pandemic, the shutdown of companies, the tightening of borders, and the exploitative nature of the Kafala sponsorship system have all aggravated the miseries of South Asian migrant workers. They have no safety net, social security protection, welfare mechanisms, or labour rights.
  • The South Asian labour force found it hard to ensure the availability of basic necessities like food and medicines during the pandemic. Since medicines are expensive in GCC countries, migrants often procure medicines for lifestyle diseases from India. However, the suspension of flights caused an acute shortage of medicines for these workers.
  • The migrants living in the labour camps (mostly characterised by overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions) were vulnerable to the COVID-19 outbreak.
  • Employers, particularly construction companies, have used the crisis as an opportunity to retrench masses of migrant labourers without paying them wages or allowances.
  • The movement for nationalisation of labour and the anti-migrant sentiment have peaked in GCC countries.

To Conclude- Suitable Policy Measures

  • India will need to rehabilitate, reintegrate, and resettle these migrant workers.
    This could involve providing money on arrival, money to launch self-employment projects, and compensation for the families of those who died abroad from COVID-19 apart from upgrading the skills of returnees.
  • The Indian government’s ‘SWADES’ scheme aims at skill mapping of citizens returning from abroad. Kerala’s ‘Dream Kerala’ scheme aims to utilise the multifaceted resources of the migrants.
  • The need of the hour is a comprehensive migration management system. No South Asian country except Sri Lanka has an adequate migration policy.
  • The pandemic provides an opportunity to voice the rights of South Asian migrants and to bring the South Asia-Gulf migration corridor within the ambit of SAARC, the ILO, and UN conventions.

Vande Bharat Mission

  • Vande Bharat Mission is the biggest evacuation exercise to bring back Indian citizens stranded abroad amidst the coronavirus-induced travel restrictions.
    It is also considered as the largest exercise to bring back Indian citizens since the evacuation of 177,000 from the Gulf region in the early 1990s at the start of hostilities between Iraq and Kuwait during the first Gulf War.
  • The mission has given priority to Indian citizens with “compelling reasons to return” – like those whose employment have been terminated, those whose visas have expired and not expected to be renewed under the present circumstances and those who have lost family members in recent times.
  • Under the repatriation plan, the government will be facilitating the return of Indian nationals stranded abroad on compelling grounds in a phased manner.
  • Air India and its subsidiary Air India Express will operate 64 flights to bring back stranded Indians from 12 countries.
  • The entire cost of travel will be borne by the passengers under the mission.

Reference: The Hindu

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