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Stranded illegal workers in squalid conditions

Desperate labourers’ attempts to court arrest fail as they struggle for food

  • By Sunil K. Vaidya, Bureau Chief
  • Published: 00:00 January 27, 2013
  • Gulf News

S. Sajjan from India
  • Image Credit: Sunil K. Vaidya/Gulf News
  • One of the illegal workers, who identified himself as S. Sajjan from India, seems to have turned into a recluse, hardly communicating with the others around him.
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Muscat: Several illegal migrant labourers, desperate to return home, are living in inhumane conditions either at abandoned farm houses or near make-shift dumping areas in the outskirts of Muscat.

Gulf News visited one such site and found nearly 100 workers living in penury, about 50km north of Muscat.

One worker slept on a mat made from a flattened cardboard box under a tree with garbage bags along with construction waste dumped around him.

As is picture was taken, he sat up and just folded his hands without a word. In a muffled voice he only said– “S. Sajjan from Tamil Nadu.”

“We give him food but most of the time he sits under the tree staring blankly and very rarely comes asking for food,” K. Balanarsu, who absconded from his employer after non-payment of salary for over a year, told Gulf News.

None of the workers in the area know this worker from India’s southern state of Tamil Nadu, and he hardly communicates with the others.

A group of workers surrounded and urged Rita Samuel ‘Ruchika’, who runs a helpline for low-wage workers as well as those in need to overcome suicidal anxiety, to get them out of Oman. “Do something for our return home,” most of them said together in their mother tongue, Telugu.

All of them have one complaint: that no one is ready to listen to them. “There was no respect for us when we approached the Labour department in Ruwi [a suburb of Muscat], so we went to Sohar,” Mohan Jangam, 35, told Gulf News.

Balanarsu said that they then went to Sohar Police station asking them to arrest them and deport. “We were sent back from the police station without any response,” he claimed.

Some, like Jangam, applied for an exit during the 2010 amnesty offered by the Omani government. “I registered, completed the finger printing and iris scan for identification but I am still waiting to exit,” he isaid.

K. Maleshwaram, who has been living in Oman illegally for the last three years, said that he also applied for an out-pass but was asked to pay 2500 Omani riyals (Dh23,850) by the Indian embassy to process his request.

Balanarsu paid 85,000 Indian rupees (about 620 Omani riyals) to an agent in India to get a work visa for United Plants Establishment LLC. “I worked for over one year without a salary in hope that eventually I would get paid,” he said, adding that finally when he asked his employers to send him back they demanded first 300 and then 100 Omani riyals as visa fees to release his withheld passport.

“I had no option but to abscond and look for freelance work to at least save some money to pay my debt back home,” he said.

Most of the workers abscond and do freelance work for sustenance. However, with the government tightening the screws against illegal work, freelance work is hard to come by, leaving the illegal workers jobless and without any income.

“There’s no income and now everyday sustenance is becoming difficult,” said Raghavan Narayana, who was cheated by the recruitment agency and sent to Oman on a visit visa after charging 50,000 Indian rupees (350 Omani riyals) for an employment visa.

“I was asked to pay 500 riyals fine by the Indian embassy before initiating the process for my return home,” Raghavan claimed.

All were unanimous about courting arrest if they could be sent home.

Some even contemplate extreme steps like suicide.

“We are willing to jump in front of a running vehicle because we have nowhere to go, we don’t get respect anywhere, no one listens to us, neither the Indian embassy nor police and not even labour department,” Balanarsu said.

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