Dubai: Indian expats in the UAE, especially the blue-collar workers, now have a walk-in facility that provides free legal aid and addresses their grievances 365 days-a-year in the premises of the Indian Consulate in Dubai.
The Pravasi Bharatiya Sahayta Kendra (PBSK), the previously outsourced help centre for distressed Indians, will now work under the mission to offer free legal, psychological and financial counselling services apart from running a 24x7 toll free helpline.
Relocated from the Jumeirah Lakes Towers (JLT), the help centre in the consulate’s premises was inaugurated by the Indian Ambassador to the UAE Pavan Kapoor in the presence of the Consul General of India in Dubai Dr Aman Puri on Sunday. The ambassador said the objective of the centre’s relocation and bringing it under the direct management of the consulate is to rationalise its services, make it more accessible for workers and provide the services in a broader scale and more frequently than earlier.
Apart from running the 24x7 toll free helpline [800-INDIA or 80046342], the centre will now open its walk-in counters from 9am to 6pm from Sunday to Thursday and from 2pm to 6pm on Friday and Saturday and on all public holidays. Previously, the walk-in facility was available only from 3pm to 7pm six days a week.
Kapoor said the mission has hired new staff members and opened extra counters to manage the walk-in facility and the helpline that provides services in five languages — English, Hindi, Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu.
Free legal aid every day
He said the legal counselling services have been expanded with the appointment of seven lawyers who provide voluntary services on a pro bono-basis. The Consul General said the plan is to soon start offering free legal aid every day of the week. “We will try to organise the lawyers to be available every day for a particular time slot to provide legal counselling. We will also arrange psychological counselling at least three to four days a week,” said Puri.
Previously, legal counselling was offered only two days a week and psychological counselling was offered only two or three days a week based on appointments. “If somebody is in dire emergency, they can walk in and seek help. But, it is always advisable to fix an appointment and come, especially during the [ongoing COVID-19] pandemic,” said Puri.
According to the figures provided to the missions by the outsourced agency, he said around 450 to 500 people walked in every month seeking the counselling services of the centre before the outbreak of the coronavirus.
During the peak of the pandemic, the centre registered about 8,000 calls per month. No walk-in services were encouraged during that time. However, calls have reduced after the pandemic situation improved and they have been in the range 3,000 to 3,500 in the past couple of months. The other emergency numbers of the consulate continue to receive 70 to 80 calls daily, Puri added.
COVID-19 toll on mental health
While the pre-pandemic grievances handled by the centre were largely related to labour issues, marital disputes and financial issues, diplomats said the nature of the calls that came in during the pandemic changed drastically as there were hundreds of thousands who wanted to fly home, and many who wanted to know about health care facilities and isolation facilities for COVID-19 related cases.
“The last six to eight months were inundated with phone calls and emails to the missions due to the pandemic situation. They may not be representative of the nature of the services we were originally doing. They were more related to quarantine information and repatriation,” said Kapoor.
He said the missions offered psychological counselling services to several Indians with the support of doctors who were empanelled to voluntarily handle such calls that came through the emergency numbers. Since the pandemic situation has improved in the country, the number of active cases are coming down and facilities being sufficient to deal with them, he said such services are no longer provided.
New WhatsApp no, virtual addresses
As the Indian government has decided to take over the management of the help centre, the virtual addresses of the PBSK have also been changed and now fall under the domains of the Ministry of External Affairs and the consulate.
The WhatsApp number for seeking emergency help run by the PBSK has been changed to 0543090571, which was previously used as one of the COVID-19 emergency helpline number of the consulate. The website of the centre will now be pbsk.cgidubai.gov.in and the new email is firstname.lastname@example.org. The new Twitter handle of the centre is @pbskdubai.
The diplomats said the emergency helpline numbers opened by both the missions during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic would continue to operate simultaneously. Though the centre is located in the consulate, calls from Indian expats in Abu Dhabi will be directed to the Embassy in the capital as earlier.
Better, quicker service delivery
PBSK receives, registers and monitors all the grievances aired to it through various channels. While several enquiries and simple cases are addressed immediately, serious grievances are escalated to the Consulate and the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi depending on the requirements. The centre also helps verify genuineness of job offers in the UAE and had helped detect thousands of fake offers earlier.
With the consulate taking over of the management of the help centre, all welfare services for the community members, especially blue-collar workers, will come now under one roof.
A better and quicker service delivery mechanism is expected as grievances can be addressed quickly with the proximity to the officials in the same premises. “[The PBSK] being in the consulate, the specialists will be on hand to provide more detailed responses from the consulate sooner,” said Kapoor.
The missions are also expected to save a substantial amount of money that was being spent on maintaining the outsourced agency. The PBSK’s services are maintained through the Indian Community Welfare Fund.
The diplomats said the missions would seek the support of the community groups and associations to streamline the services of the PBSK and spread better awareness about it and are looking at expanding its presence in other emirates in the future.
PBSK was known as the Indian Workers Resource Centre (IWRC) and provided assistance to needy Indians from in the UAE from 2010 to 2014. The first-of-its-kind community help centre to be launched by the Indian government abroad was outsourced to Alankit Assignments (P) Limited. The IWRC centre in Bur Dubai was relocated to JLT in 2014 and another branch was opened in Sharjah in 2017. The renaming of the IWRC centre to PBSK was done in 2018.
The diplomats said the Sharjah centre was shut down a few months ago due to COVID-19 as footfall became very low.