Jailed In­di­ans seek UAE mercy; Tan­za­ni­ans in Gulf face abuse

Tan­za­nian do­mes­tic work­ers raped and abused in Gulf Work­ers in Gulf in cy­cle of poverty and pain

Kuwait Times - - Front Page -

JAGTIAL, In­dia: When Lak­shmi Mo­tam sent 20 tra­madol tablets from her south Indian vil­lage to her la­borer hus­band in Dubai, she didn’t re­al­ize the pain re­lief pills would land him in jail. Tra­madol, a syn­thetic opi­oid painkiller that her hus­band used for his aches and pains was among nearly 400 drugs the United Arab Emirates banned in 2010 for their ad­dic­tive na­ture. “He worked as a coolie and of­ten asked me to send the medicine. This was the third time I sent the tablets to him. They were for his per­sonal use,” Mo­tam told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion.

The drug, read­ily avail­able in In­dia for less than 8 ru­pees (12 cents) a tablet, last year landed her 35-year-old hus­band with a 24-year jail sen­tence. “Be­fore, he would call ev­ery day, and wire money home ev­ery few months. I wire him money now so that he can call us,” she said. “He calls once in two months. He was cry­ing on the phone the last time we spoke.”

Indian mi­grant work­ers in Gulf states, of­ten find them­selves in a cy­cle of poverty and pain - they put in long hours in the sear­ing heat and then pop painkillers to keep go­ing and en­sure their wages are not docked. Lured by il­le­gal agents with the prom­ise of a free ticket to Dubai, or a well-pay­ing job, many find them­selves smug­gling the drugs to the Gulf in their lug­gage, ig­no­rant of the fact they are break­ing the law.

Tra­madol is de­scribed by the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion as a “rel­a­tively safe anal­gesic”, but is banned in var­i­ous parts of the world. The drug is the most com­mon il­le­gal med­i­ca­tion smug­gled into the UAE where it is widely used by recre­ational users, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal me­dia re­ports. The drug’s il­le­gal trade has led to strict checks and se­vere pun­ish­ments, cam­paign­ers said. Many Indian mi­grant work­ers who were caught us­ing or pos­sess­ing the drug in the Gulf are serv­ing terms in prison.

“Most of these peo­ple (caught in drug cases) are poor and il­lit­er­ate. They are un­skilled and come to UAE with big dreams,” said Anu­radha Vob­biliselty, an ad­vo­cate in Dubai who deals with cases of In­di­ans jailed for car­ry­ing the drug. “Tra­madol is the most com­mon banned drug found on In­di­ans who have sought le­gal help from me.”

Srinu Pusula spent his child­hood graz­ing sheep and stepped out of his vil­lage Tad­pakal in Te­lan­gana for the first time eight years ago when he boarded a flight to Dubai to work as a la­borer. He vis­ited In­dia last year when he got mar­ried. Be­fore he left home, his agent gave his new wife a packet of medicines he said Pusula must de­liver to his rel­a­tive in Dubai. She packed them in his bag and for­got to men­tion it to her hus­band. Pusula was ar­rested at Dubai air­port for car­ry­ing half a kilo­gram of tra­madol and con­victed in Septem­ber and sen­tenced to seven years in prison.

“We built this house with our son’s earn­ings. We never had power sup­ply be­fore. Now we do,” Srinu’s mother Posani Pusala, 55, told the Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion. Her only hope now is a mercy pe­ti­tion Indian ac­tivists in Dubai will file on Nov 15. “Agents are run­ning the racket and tar­get­ing la­bor­ers,” said Kr­ishna Donekeni, founder of Gulf Work­ers Aware­ness Cen­tre by phone from Dubai.

Donekeni has met Pusula a few times and lob­bied of­fi­cials at the Indian em­bassy in Dubai about his case. “He is young, and away from his fam­ily. He hasn’t seen his child who was born af­ter he left. He is scared,” Donekeni said. An­other mi­grant rights ac­tivist, Bhim Reddy, said Pusula is the third per­son from Jagtial dis­trict who has been con­victed in a drug case in the last three years.

Lit­tle hope

Vob­biliselty has dealt with at least six cases of In­di­ans ar­rested for us­ing, sell­ing or pos­sess­ing tra­madol tablets, and seen each case end with a sen­tence of 7 years to up to 24 years, which is life im­pris­on­ment. “In­dia is not do­ing any­thing for this prob­lem. Mi­grant pro­tec­tion of­fi­cers in In­dia or even im­mi­gra­tion of­fi­cials do not warn work­ers against car­ry­ing this drug,” Vob­biliselty said.

Of­fi­cials in In­dia’s for­eign min­istry said help in drug and al­co­hol use cases is dif­fi­cult as UAE has strict laws on them. “But our con­sular of­fi­cers meet them (those ar­rested in drug cases) and sug­gest names of em­pan­elled lawyers to fight their cases in the la­bor court,” said M C Luther, In­dia’s pro­tec­tor gen­eral of em­i­grants. Luther said mi­grant work­ers go­ing through gov­ern­ment-au­tho­rized em­ploy­ment agents are given pre-de­par­ture train­ing where they are ad­vised against car­ry­ing the banned medicines.

But a sizeable num­ber of work­ers go through il­le­gal agents and have no idea about the medicines they can­not carry or use. A spokesper­son of the UAE em­bassy in New Delhi said poor and il­lit­er­ate mi­grant work­ers are en­ti­tled to free le­gal aid. Mo­tam, whose hus­band is in a Dubai jail, knows the road ahead is dif­fi­cult. She has met var­i­ous min­is­ters, in­clud­ing In­dia’s min­is­ter of for­eign af­fairs Sushma Swaraj, to plead her hus­band’s case.

“When he left for Dubai, I thought our life would im­prove with his earn­ings. But now I roll 600 beedis (tra­di­tional Indian cig­a­rettes) for 70 ru­pees ev­ery day. That is our only source of in­come,” she said. Tears stream­ing down her cheeks, she touches the feet of any­one - ac­tivist, jour­nal­ist, vil­lage el­der - who vis­its her, mum­bling: “Please help me.”

Tan­za­nian work­ers face abuse

Separately, Tan­za­nian do­mes­tic work­ers in the Gulf are beaten, sex­u­ally as­saulted and de­prived of pay, rights cam­paign­ers said yes­ter­day as they called for an end to abu­sive em­ploy­ment rules. Thou­sands of Tan­za­nian women work in the Mid­dle East, of­ten lured by prom­ises of salaries 10 times higher than they could earn at home. But visa-spon­sor­ship rules in Oman and the United Arab Emirates, known as the kafala sys­tem, mean they can­not change jobs with­out their em­ployer’s con­sent and can be charged with “ab­scond­ing” if they flee, Hu­man Rights Watch said.

Most of the 50 women in­ter­viewed for a re­port called “Work­ing Like a Ro­bot” were made to work 15 to 21 hours a day and had their pass­ports con­fis­cated, HRW said. More than half were un­der­paid and some said they were not paid at all. Around two in five re­ported phys­i­cal abuse and the same pro­por­tion said they were sex­u­ally ha­rassed or as­saulted.

“Many Tan­za­nian do­mes­tic work­ers in Oman and the UAE are over­worked, un­der­paid, and abused be­hind closed doors,” said Rothna Begum, a women’s rights re­searcher with the New York-based watch­dog. “Work­ers who fled abu­sive em­ploy­ers or agents told us the po­lice or their own em­bassy of­fi­cials forced them to go back, or they had to re­lin­quish their salaries and spend months rais­ing money for tick­ets home.”

Most mi­grant do­mes­tic work­ers in the Gulf re­gion come from Asian coun­tries. But rights groups say re­cruiters are in­creas­ingly turn­ing to East Africa where pro­tec­tions are weaker. HRW said em­ploy­ers of­ten got away with pay­ing East Africans far less than Asians. It called for re­form of the kafala sys­tem, the in­tro­duc­tion of a min­i­mum wage and an end to wage dis­crim­i­na­tion. “(Work­ers) said they were paid less than promised or not at all, were forced to eat spoiled or left­over food, shouted at and in­sulted daily, and phys­i­cally and sex­u­ally abused. Some of these cases amount to forced la­bor or traf­fick­ing into forced la­bor,” HRW said.

One Tan­za­nian woman em­ployed in Oman told re­searchers how her em­ploy­ers at­tacked her when she re­turned from hos­pi­tal af­ter faint­ing. She said she was raped by her em­ployer af­ter be­ing stripped and beaten by two women in the fam­ily. “They took the money I earned ... I was scared, trau­ma­tized, and didn’t know who to speak to,” she was quoted as say­ing. An­other woman, who worked 17-hour days, said she fled af­ter be­ing sex­u­ally as­saulted. But when she tried to file a com­plaint with the po­lice they told her she faced charges for run­ning away and said she must pay a fine of more than $500 or spend time in jail. — Agen­cies

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