Indian workers at the opening of the Indian Workers Resource Centre (now called Pravasi Bharatiya Sahayata Kendra) in 2017. Image Credit: Atiq ur Rehman/Gulf News Archives

Abu Dhabi/Dubai: The Dh8 that Indian expatriates pay for each consular service has helped more than 2,800 Indians in distress across the UAE through a welfare fund run by the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Consulate General in Dubai over the past one year.

Set up in 2009, the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) is primarily pooled from a fee of Dh8 charged on Indian expatriates for every consular service they seek from Indian diplomatic missions in the UAE. More than three million Indians constitute the largest expatriate community in the UAE.

2800

expatriates have benefited since the expansion of ICWF

The embassy and the consulate had revealed that they together used to receive Rs60 million (Dh3.14 million) a year to the ICWF and they had a surplus of Rs240 million when the Indian government approved the expansion of the fund’s ambit based on the missions’ recommendation in August last year. However, the latest amount of annual collection and status of surplus funds were not available.

Emergency aid

After the expansion, the consulate in Dubai has spent more than Rs50 million to resolve issues faced by the needy workers and others who were eligible to receive aid in emergency situations, Vipul, the Consul General in Dubai, told Gulf News. The fund was used to aid almost 1,500 Indians since its expansion in September 2017 and until October 2018, he added. “We issued air tickets to about 657, supported repatriation of 71 cases of mortal remains and we have given subsistence allowance to almost 650 people, which include about 300 housemaids.”

Funds for stranded sailors

Consul General of India Vipul third from right and a consulate official (extreme left )with stranded sailors of Safina Al Shahejan before they flew home Gulf News archives

The subsistence allowance of Dh40 per day for 30 days for distressed individuals was extended up to 60 days on a means-tested basis. Vipul said financial aid was given to 77 stranded Indian sailors as well under the new guidelines of the ICWF. “Since May, last year, we have helped about 400 stranded Indian sailors to return home with the help of the Federal Transport Authority of the UAE. In a number of cases, we have helped them with air tickets and provisions,” he said. However, Vipul clarified that educational expenses and rents are not covered under the fund.

Air tickets and repatriation

Navdeep Singh Suri, the Indian Ambassador to the UAE, told Gulf News the embassy in Abu Dhabi spent more money than the amount collected for ICWF from September 2017 to November 2018. “The embassy provided air tickets to 268 needy Indians and assisted repatriation of ten mortal remains. About 149 people received subsistence allowance and 117 people got financial assistance to pay the penalties for illegal stay, which included small fines and fees (approximately Dh400 for each) for taking exit clearance papers to leave the UAE. About 789 people in distress received assistance for food, local transportation, visa cancellation and other miscellaneous expenses, which include aid for prisoners during the same period,” the ambassador said.

Medical assistance

The fund also has provisions to cater to those who need emergency medical assistance of up to $5,000 (Dh18,390), victims of major accidents, patients with life-threatening medical conditions and serious disability, if their employers are unwilling to meet those expenses and their families are unable to bear those costs.

Visa amnesty

The expanded community fund was used to aid thousands of undocumented Indians seeking the UAE’s visa amnesty, Vipul said. The Indian government had exempted amnesty-seekers from paying the fees for emergency certification — the one-time travel document commonly referred to as out-pass. However, the service fee for the same charged by the out-sourced agency processing the document had to be allocated from ICWF, Vipul added. “As of December 1, we had issued around 3,800 emergency certificates and we have given away about 300 air tickets to amnesty-seekers in the last two-three months,” he said.

Helpline for expats

Navdeep Singh Suri (left) and Vipul reveal details of the legal aid scheme during an interaction with media. Image Credit: Arshad Ali/Gulf News

The fund also caters to the functioning of the Pravasi Bharatiya Sahayata Kendra (formerly known as Indian Workers Resource Centre) that runs a helpline and provides legal, financial and psychological counselling and conducts awareness programmes. Vipul said the consulate convened the first Annual Day for Indian students in February to address their welfare, under the expanded scope of ICWF. The consulate also held a community event to celebrate the victory of the visually impaired Indian team that won the cricket World Cup in Dubai in January last year. “We have used some of the fund for the upkeep of our consular areas as well,” Vipul informed. Vipul said three Indian expatriates had contributed to the fund in 2017. Voluntary donation from community members is the secondary source of funding for ICWF.