716,662 Indian workers returned from Gulf during pandemic, many have gone back:Jaishankar

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An estimated 716,662 Indian workers returned from six West Asian countries amid the Covid-19 pandemic and many of them have gone back once again following the economic recovery in that region and easing of travel restrictions.

According to estimates provided by external affairs minister S Jaishankar in a written reply to a question in the Lok Sabha, 330,058 Indian workers returned from the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and 137,900 more from Saudi Arabia.

An estimated 97,802 workers returned from Kuwait, 72,259 from Oman, 51,190 from Qatar, and 27,453 from Bahrain.

“While a large number of Indian workers in the Gulf returned to India as a result of the impact of Covid-19, the economic recovery in that region and their increasing openness to travel from India has now seen a return by many of them,” Jaishankar said in response to a question from MP Abdul Majeed Ariff of the CPI-M.

The West Asian region is home to some nine million Indian expatriates, with the largest numbers in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Amid the pandemic, Jaishankar said, the government’s priority was ensuring that the impact of the crisis on Indian workers, in terms of loss of employment, was mitigated. The external affairs ministry and missions in the Gulf engaged with governments in the region to maintain the workers ensure their welfare and facilitate financial payments due to them, he said.

“As the pandemic has receded in recent months, this focus has shifted to pressing for return of workers and families on an expeditious basis. To that end, all Gulf nations were pressed to establish air bubbles and ease visa, travel and health restrictions,” he said.

“All countries in the Gulf have responded favourably to these efforts by the government, as a result of which, there has been a steady flow of returnees back to the Gulf. Government will continue to make this its priority in engagement with the Gulf nations,” he added.

Jaishankar said Indian missions in West Asian countries are continuing to pursue with governments of host countries the return of Indian workers, realisation of payments due to them, new recruitment in light of economic recovery and other welfare measures.

The government launched a programme in January to upskill Indian blue collar workers in the UAE to enhance their employability and wages.

During the pandemic, Indian missions in the region extended support to Indians by using the Indian Community Welfare Fund and by coordinating with community associations. This support included expenses related to lodging, air fares and emergency medical care.

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