New Delhi: Information collected through RTI replies and responses to questions raised in the parliament reveal that more than 24,570 Indian workers died between 2012 and mid-2018 in the six Gulf countries of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This comes to an average of more than ten deaths every day. Saudi Arabia recorded the most deaths at 10,416 while Bahrain, at 1,317, had the least.
In August 2018, Venkatesh Nayak from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) submitted an RTI to the Ministry of External Affairs seeking to know the names, age, sex, and occupation of Indian workers who died in the six Gulf countries from January 1, 2012 till date. He also sought to know the cause of their deaths as mentioned in the death certificates.
While the embassy in Kuwait has listed the details on their website, these are only from 2014 onwards. According to data shared by Qatar, more than 80% of the deaths have been attributed to natural causes, 14% occurred in accidents and almost 6% were due to suicides. Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia shared all the details except the cause of death and the embassy in the UAE refused to share even basic details. Nayak says he filled these gaps in the data by collecting details from questions raised in the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha. “The number of deaths could increase if the complete figures for Kuwait and UAE are made available publicly,” he adds.
More than half of total foreign remittance to India from the Gulf
Nayak has also analysed the annual ‘Migration and Remittances Data’ released by the World Bank and compared it to the data relating to the Indian workers’ deaths. He says Indians working in Gulf countries accounted for more than half of the remittance that India received from all over the world between 2012-2017. Out of a total of US$ 410.33 billion in remittances from the world over, remittances from the Gulf countries accounted for US$ 209.07 billion.
According to Nayak’s comparative analysis, “there were more than 187 deaths for every US$ billion received from Oman during 2012-17; more than 183 deaths for every US$ billion received from Bahrain and 162 deaths for every US$ billion received from Saudi Arabia. Qatar accounted for more than 74 deaths for every US$ billion received while the lowest figure of 71 deaths for every US$ billion received was from UAE”.
Dwindling emigration clearances
Nayak also suggests that the number of emigration clearances (ECR) issued by the Central government enabling Indians to work in the six Gulf countries have been rapidly decreasing. According to data tabled by the government in the parliament, 7.6 lakh ECR clearances were issued in 2015 but only 3.46 lakh have been issued during the first 10 months of 2018.
While clearly stating that the comparison of data on death and remittance is “not an attempt to label the remittances from the Gulf as blood money,” Nayak feels the issue of death of Indian workers in Gulf countries needs closer examination and urgent enquiry. “There is an urgent need to commission experts to study the cause of deaths – especially the large number of deaths labelled in Qatar as “natural deaths” and examine the conditions under which Indians work there and identify measures that will prevent avoidable deaths,” he adds.