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Analysing UAE’s Solidarity Policy with India Concerning the Return of the Stranded Indian Expatriate

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

The entire world came to a standstill when WHO announced Covid-19 as a ‘pandemic.’ The novel Coronavirus has created havoc around the world and currently, there are 7.94 million active cases and a total number of 435 000 global deaths. Most of the countries had no other option than to seal the borders and impose nationwide lockdowns in an attempt to contain the deadly virus and prevent community spread. The economies of the world faced severe repercussions in absence of free-flowing international trade, commerce etc. The major implication of the pandemic and lockdown imposed, in several nations, was that a number of workers and students ended up being stranded in foreign lands and their return became one of the major issues amidst the terror of the virus.

India-UAE work relations have flourished over the years and both the countries have contributed largely to each other’s economic growth. UAE has more than 200 nationalities in its expatriate workforce. It is however dominated by the Indians. India-UAE shares a symbiotic work relation; while India depends heavily on the remittances sent by the workforce, UAE to nurtures its economy from the cheap Indian labor. Since the pandemic, a number of workers have been trying to return home due to several reasons the most important being economic. Most of the workers have lost their jobs or have been laid off and hence under the said circumstances affording the costly livelihood in UAE amidst the pandemic has become very difficult for them. The urgent need for the return of workers to their home countries has been taken into account by the UAE government.

UAE had to keep in mind the ongoing lockdown in different countries while deciding upon returning the stranded workers. It also had to ensure that its policy regarding the same was not met with backlash. Therefore, they addressed the issue as early as possible in April 2020 and the UAE government sent a note verbale to the embassies of different nations asking them to cooperate regarding the return of the emigrant workers. UAE declared to impose strict future work sanctions on those refusing to take back their citizens. However, at the same time, UAE has taken the plight of the workers into consideration and have ensured food and medical treatment for all nationalities. Besides extending the visas of the workers the UAE ministry has launched virtual labour markets for the workers who have been laid off. In spite of these measures, 2,00,000 Indians have registered to return to India and 40 per cent of them are workers suffering from financial ailments in the gulf nation. UAE, in fact, has received significant cooperation from India regarding the return of the Indian expatriates and the two stakeholders had started speedy discussions on how to resolve the ongoing crisis. Special flights to take back the stranded Indians have been arranged by PM Modi from May 7 onwards. The number of such flights is aimed to be increased in due course of time.

UAE’s vast majority of workforce belong from India- especially the community of blue-collar workers. Therefore, the Gulf nation while implementing its policy on the return of the expatriates has to aim at preventing any hampering of future work relations and the continuity of such relations after the situation resides. At the same time, it also needs to take into account, that, unnecessary use of state funds on the expatriate community for an indefinite period could damage its economy. Since this is a global crisis, any stringent action or use of force on the part of UAE regarding the return of the workers would be heavily looked down upon by the international community; something which UAE is definitely not looking forward to. At the same time, there are other issues that stand in the way of the return of the ex-pats. The transmission of the virus if any of the returnees are the carriers is one of the major concerns for India. India’s coronavirus cases have skyrocketed in the last two months and any further deterioration of the situation would have a severe impact on India. India will have to bear the huge amount cost of arranging special flights and will also have to find alternate ways for the return of the poor laborers working in UAE. Besides, India would also have to ensure sufficient funds for the immediate medical tests and treatment for the returnee workers. Special ration schemes will have to be arranged for the jobless workers. All this might take a toll on the economy of India. It has to keep in mind a number of factors before arranging the safe return of the ex-pats back to India and hence the delay. However, constant pressure from the states of Kerala, Andhra and Tamil Nadu- the major contributors to the UAE workforce has led India to treat the current ex-pat issue with the highest priority.

The policy regarding the return of such a large number of people in the middle of the deadly pandemic will have to take into account the priorities of both the stakeholders. UAE’s stand of solidarity and ensuring of benefits for the stranded laid-off workers is the first step towards this. UAE has urged India to take back its citizens at the same time has also prioritized India’s needs by providing benefits to all stranded workers in UAE. This attitude has further nourished the existing India-UAE work relations. However, complete repatriation would be possible only when both the nations equally contribute towards it. It has to be thoroughly understood that the Indian expatriate workforce is significantly important to the economies of both the nations and their welfare and needs cannot be ignored under any circumstance. Collaboration and comprise by the two countries is the only way forward to fulfil the aims of this policy i.e., the return of thousands of stranded Indian workers. UAE will have to be open to provide India with necessary aid. Some contribution towards the flight costs is also recommended. This will act as a catalyst in the return of the ex-pats as early as possible. The returning passengers should be medically tested by the UAE government and those who test positive should be prevented from leaving the country and should be treated in the UAE itself. The medical needs of such workers should be taken care of by the UAE government. India on its part should arrange as many flights as possible to fast track the return of the workers. UAE by providing economic aid to India regarding this would reduce strain on its economy in the long run and the issue of accommodating such a large number of workers for an indefinite period would be resolved. UAE’s superiority on currency would prevent any excess cost in providing such an aid to India. India on the other hand, too, would also be benefited heavily. The financial issue regarding the return and accommodation of the emigrant Indian workers can be adjusted by this, leading to the reduction of India’s inhibitions in taking back the ex-pats and facilitating their urgent return.

The need for preserving the India-UAE work relations has been recognized by the administration of two nations and hence there have been active efforts on both the sides to settle the issue of worker crisis. UAE’s solidarity with India and vice versa in these uncertain times is something which will strengthen their future alliances on divergent issues. Nasser bin Thani Al Hamli is UAE’s minister of human resources and Emiratization has been hopeful for the continuance of the successful India-UAE workforce collaboration, “while the current situation may seem bleak, we are both forward-thinking and optimistic nations that have thrived following bigger challenges than Covid-19. I have no doubt that we will emerge more resilient from this crisis, and that UAE will continue to be a place of opportunity and tolerance for Indian migrants and indeed all those who want to build a better life, both for themselves and the wider world.”


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