As the freedom of trapped Indian nurses in Iraq generates a collective sigh of relief, their story also underlines a rarely discussed issue; the abuse and exploitation of Indian migrant workers in Gulf and Arab countries.
Most Gulf countries require foreign workers to have a ‘kafeel’ or local sponsor to recommend a visa for the expatriate. The residence permit or ‘iqama’ is then issued to the expat in the name of their sponsor. This gives the sponsor virtual control over the life of the expat and opens the door for many abuses. The general practice in most countries is for the sponsor to confiscate his workers’ passports upon arrival, thus ensuring they cannot leave the country without the sponsor’s approval. Legal experts say the practice is against international law, but there is little that migrant workers can do to exercise their rights.
The exploitation and deception actually begins at home with recruitment agents and visa brokers. All recruiting agents are supposed to be registered under the Indian Emigration Act. The Act also requires the Protector General of Emigrants to regulate all agents.