Works well for Indians in Dubai

The connection between UAE and India is blocked

For some it is no longer possible to travel home, for others the way to work is blocked: Due to the increase in corona infections in India, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have extended the suspension of flights until May 15. And that has far-reaching consequences for the largest population group in the Emirates - the Indians.

More than 3.4 million inhabitants of the UAE come from India, which is - as figures from the United Nations show - around 30 percent of the total population. In contrast, according to the World Bank, only about ten percent of the roughly ten million inhabitants of the UAE are actually Emirati citizens.

"To be honest, we first expected the ban and then its extension because other countries had already cut ties," says Lakshmi S., a 33-year-old health care worker from Andhra Pradesh, who followed up five years ago Dubai has moved. Lakshmi doesn't want DW to publish her last name - "out of fear," as she says. The reason: Her husband works in Dubai's construction industry and has been told that he will likely lose his job in the coming month.

Migrant workers in Dubai (2019): "Abuses caused by the system"

The majority of foreign workers are tied to the Kafala system, which makes migrants' visas dependent on the support of their employers. Despite a change in 2017 that resulted in more rights, the law does not meet international standards and offers foreign workers less protection than local workers.

"The Kafala system leads to the unfair situation of migrant workers. Abuses are inherent in the system," says Hiba Zayadin of Human Rights Watch. "With the beginning of the pandemic, migrant workers were forced to return to their home countries, often with no outstanding wages, which they then assert in labor courts," reports Zayadin.

The organization "Migrants Rights" has published a report on the situation of job seekers. The authors conclude that those who cannot find work or are sent back to employment agencies during their probationary period face extreme social insecurity. "The dependency of the workers is increasing," said Meenu Seethi, one of the researchers who contributed to the report.

No possibility of returning

In addition to deteriorating living and working conditions, the flight ban has left Indians who traveled home to visit or support their friends and families now stuck there because of the rampant spread of the coronavirus. Airlines don't give numbers of how many passengers are affected, but there are typically dozens of flights between India and the Emirates every day. The airlines are now offering their customers rebooking options and promise a quick resumption of flights.

Preeti Ranjalkar is one of the many Indian women unable to return to the UAE after visiting her daughter in the southwest Indian port city of Mangaluru. "I've been on vacation since April 2nd and should fly back on April 30th, but now I'm stuck. I'm a gynecologist and I started giving my patients appointments from May 1st," Ranjalkar told the Emirati newspaper "Khaleej Times".

Solidarity in difficult times

Despite their own difficult situation, many members of the Indian community in Dubai have started private initiatives in support of their ancient homeland. This week Anuradha K. started a social media initiative to raise money. The aim is to buy devices for the production of oxygen and send them to India.

Because oxygen for the ventilation of seriously ill corona patients is extremely scarce in India. "I was shocked when I saw the news and it was a matter close to my heart to reach people on Facebook," says Anuradha K., who also does not want to give her last name.

Loading empty oxygen tanks (in Bengaluru): "I was shocked when I saw the news"

The support was overwhelming. "We now have almost ten solar-powered devices for the production of oxygen safely," says the 52-year-old, who originally comes from Hyderabad and has lived in the Emirates for 25 years. Instead of donating to the Indian sovereign wealth fund, she wants to send the devices to a Rotary club run by a friend.

There is also state aid for the neighbor on the other side of the Indian Ocean: In a phone call at the end of April, UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan informed his Indian colleague Subrahmanyam Jaishankar that his government was offering its full support and solidarity. The UAE has delivered oxygen production equipment to India.

And there was another strong sign of solidarity - albeit a symbolic one: the largest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, was illuminated in the colors of the Indian flag out of solidarity.

Adapted from the English by Marco Müller.