Hyderabad: Nearly 2 lakh people head for Gulf countries every year in search of jobs and a better lifestyle. But the dream of Arabian nights is not as rosy as it appears from far, say social workers who have been helping stranded Indians in those oil-rich nations.

Bheem Reddy Mandha, the president of Emigrants Welfare Forum, has been reaching out to people who get stuck abroad, for the past decade. “What usually happens is a person going from India doesn’t know the rules there and are easily put in jails for a petty mistake. The naive person who is unaware of the judicial procedures in the abroad country is stuck there for years. We take some special classes and try to educate them so that they don’t suffer in foreign countries.”

The activist also ensures the safe arrival of stranded victims once the amnesty is declared by the Gulf countries. Amnesty is a period when those who have overstayed are allowed to go home. During this time, authorities also waive penalties and let worker return to their native nation. This bracket is kept for two to three months to help the countries clear off those who are overstaying or have been forced to stay even after the expiry of their visa.

Shaheen Sayyed, who is based out of Kuwait and has been helping stranded Indians, from the age of 22, says, “During Amnesty, I have rescued around 7000 workers from Kuwait, who were stranded for almost two years.” There are seafarers who are abandoned by their companies. She says, “Seafarers are left on the ships for years, with no food. Their salaries are kept on hold and they are not provided with any means to leave the ship. They fall sick and I have seen such victims and helped many of them go back to their home.”

Basanth Reddy Patkuri has been helping workers in Gulf nations for the past seven years. He has so far repatriated around 800 people. He says, “Agents are the basic problem. They fool the people after taking money. The victim realizes that he has been fooled only after reaching that country. He now has nowhere to go and is stranded there without food and shelter.”

Vasanth has helped such victims by arranging food and shelter for them. In 1999, Vasanth had gone to Dubai as a worker and saw the deplorable condition of workers is there. He then decided that he would help the stranded workers.

Hyderabad resident Amjed Ullah Khan, who too helps stranded workers, said agents are a major problem. “Ladies are fooled by lady agents. India banned the helper visa for single women. So these agents get a 90-day vacation visa for women and take them as helpers to the Gulf countries. Once their 90 days are over, they become illegal residents there. The owners don’t take steps to renew their visa and there are also cases of owners sexually harassing them. It is very difficult for us to bring back such lady helpers as they don’t have proper documents.”

These social workers try to help the victims by writing to the embassies and by arranging for food, shelter and other basic needs. They also help the victims in their legal battles.

Sayyed says, “The problem actually is people don’t know the reality. All the Indian movies show lavish lifestyle of NRIs. Instead, they should show how blue-collar labourers actually suffer in Gulf countries. People who are saved by us and go back are also mum about the issues they faced. They think it is a shame that they had to face all this so they don’t share it with society. As there is no awareness among the public, lakhs of people get stuck every year.”

Aiswarya Sriram

Aiswarya Sriram is a budding multimedia journalist and is currently working for NewsMeter as a "Factcheck Freelancer". A graduate from Indian Institute of Journalism and New Media (IIJNM) Bangalore, Aiswarya has earlier worked with The Logical Indian and has interned with Republic TV. Aiswarya, a Tamilian who was born and brought up in Mumbai, loves to do rural reporting. She has visited Byadgi Taluk of Karnataka, to write about the issues faced by chilli factory workers there, earlier in 2019. A craft enthusiast, Aiswarya also does quilling, painting and glass work. On her off-days, she loves to read crime-thrillers and watch anime. She primarily reports on civic issues, GHMC, human-interesting features, and fact-checking video stories.

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