Shahida (name changed), a maid from Andhra Pradesh, was like family to her Qatari employer, in whose house she has been working since the past 22 years. A few months ago, she began to suffer from psychological problems, but her relatives, back in Andhra, refused to accept her. Following this, her Qatari employer decided to take care of her like any other family member. However, as her hallucinations got worse, she ran out of their house a week back and stayed on the streets for four days. A group of taxi drivers managed to bring her back, but the Qatari family refused to accept her fearing COVID-19. Finally, the Qatar government shifted her to a shelter home.
Ashok (name changed), from Nizamabad, has been working as a fire and safety officer in Abu Dhabi for the last three years. However, six months back he resigned from the job because of the non-payment of salary. Last week Ashok was tested for Covid-19 and has been admitted to a university in UAE. His family of three kids, wife and parents back in Nizamabad are clueless. Ashok too feels insecure more than ever before. All he wants is to return home safely.
These are not isolated cases. Clouds of uncertainty continue to prevail over the Indian migrant labor communities in Gulf countries. The condition is more or less the same for people from Telugu states. The most affected are the part-time laborers and house boys.
Fear of job loss continues to haunt the migrant laborers from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana in the United Arabia Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Oman. Several people with cancer, severe skin diseases, and memory issues continue to live in crowded shelter homes.
“As of now, there are no major job losses in gulf countries. People working in multinational companies are given work from home and laborers are asked to go on unpaid leave. Companies are offering them free food and shelter. However, we expect companies to lay off at least one-third of its employees. In Gulf, a few MNCs have already terminated their employees due to economic crisis. So, when big companies do so, we expect similar responses from small ones. Companies may also ask people to go on VRS,” said Gangula Muralidhar Reddy, an NRI based in Kuwait.
Reddy noted that a majority of the Telugu population in Kuwait are women from Andhra Pradesh who work as home maids and cleaners. “Also there are young men. A majority of them do not know the local language. Their out-passes are not renewed. Women who tried to escape from the houses have been booked. So, expired passes and legal cases can become an obstacle for these people to return home even if India agrees to receive its expatriates. Kuwait government had given multiple opportunities to renew the visa. But due to the lack of enough staff in the Indian embassy, the process got delayed. Since lockdown, over 500 migrants from India were on roads without valid documents. Now, they have been put in jail by the government ,” he said.
Reddy said some women with bleeding problems, cancer, and severe health issues stay together since lockdown. “There are also possibilities for corona spread in such condition. There are around 10.3 lack Indians in Kuwait, but only one embassy office. Even if we manage to get these migrants back home, we don’t know what rehabilitation packages await them. Governments should consider employing them in various projects,” he said.
Since the lockdown, Kuwait has also seen deaths among Telugu Communities. Out of 15 deaths, one died of Covid -19, while others had heart attacks and cancer.
Some 85 lakh Indians are living in Gulf countries. About 26 lakh are from Telugu states.
“Government and semi-government employees are receiving their full salaries so far. Laborers are asked to go on two-months unpaid leave. Many have registered to go back home. We still don’t know the actual numbers. Most of them work in IT and Oil companies. Since the oil rate has significantly come down, that can be a reason for job loss in the coming months,” said Prithviraj Churuku, an NRI from Nizamabad who has been living in Abu Dhabi for the last 20 years
The Abu Dhabi government has meanwhile arranged around 20,000 extra accommodations by converting hotels and apartments for Covid patients and symptomatic people.
“There are field hospitals temporarily arranged by the government. Symptomatic people and people with Covid-19 are shifted to these hospitals. They are being kept in touch over the phone by the hospitals. Only chronic cases are shifted to the main hospitals. Some private hospitals are also taken over by the government here,” said Roja, an administration staff who manages three government-run hospitals in Abu Dhabi.
Qatar, where Telugus are the second-highest migrant population is also not clear on how many people will need to go home. For instance, as many as 400 people from Telangana who were working in companies that offer cleaning services are now jobless.
A woman from Kadapa district of Andhra Pradesh who was working as a housemaid for 16 years ran out from the house of her sponsor almost two years back.
“The Qatar government has automatically renewed the visas of all migrants with a valid visa. In Qatar, most of the Telugu migrants are from Telangana than Andhra. Several young boys have come as drivers on unofficial visas. There are house boys and housemaids who have come on invalid visas, especially from Andhra's Kadappa and West Godavari districts. They are in difficulty since Covid-19 lockdown,” said Rajani Murthy of Indian Community Benevolent Forum (ICBF).
Ms Rajani noted that people have exhausted the medicines which they had brought from India. “Now we are trying to get them alternative medicines. The other day, 500 migrants from Telangana staying together in an area approached us for essentials. Likewise, a man from Andhra is Covid positive and his wife is in quarantine at some other part of the country. We have made arrangements so that they are at least lodged in one apartment. Another man with Covid-19 has, however, managed to get his family back home before lockdown,” he said
Arun MS who works for an MNC in Dubai said some companies have asked their employees to go on indefinite leave without pay, especially in the small scale sector. With Dubai EXPO 2020 postponed the jobs of many people are at stake. The Dubai government had issued an order stating companies can terminate employees only after providing all the benefits. That can become a huge burden for companies.
"For this reason, several companies are maintaining their employees with salary cuts. Also, we don’t foresee a mass lay off because again recruiting a similar amount of people will be an expensive task for the companies,” he said.