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News updated at 3:57 PM IST

Indian missions in Gulf have shelters for runaway housemaids

New Delhi, Sep 12, 2013, (IANS) 15:53 IST
With millions of Indians working as unskilled or low-skilled workers in the Gulf region, Indian missions there have "major problems" dealing with runaway housemaids and some of them have set up shelters for them, said an official.

According to Joint Secretary (Consular) Suchitra Durai in the external affairs ministry, one of the major initiatives of the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs (MOIA) is to ensure that no one below the age of 30 years is given clearance to go as a housemaid anywhere in the world.

But she said a number of people "actually go around these guidelines". They travel on a visitor's visas overseas and thereafter work as housemaids.

"Naturally, our job at the missions is to help any Indian in distress, irrespective of the way they went to that particular country," she said in a briefing.

The Indian missions in a couple of countries "where this is a very major problem, for example in Saudi Arabia as well as in Kuwait", have set up shelters for runaway housemaids.

According to Durai, if a runaway housemaid approaches the mission for help, they first verify whether she is an Indian national. Once that is established, the mission then intervenes with the sponsor for an exit visa for the worker.

"That is because in such countries you also need an exit visa to come back. It is not just a question of issuing a travel document. So, the Mission does all this, and then puts up these people in the shelter for a period, which can range from a number of days to even a couple of months, and thereafter sends them back to India. This has been working very well now since this scheme has been established," she said.

The Indian missions also provide assistance to women who have been abandoned by their husbands. "We give assistance in the form of initial legal assistance through the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) which is given through an NGO to the person concerned."

Since last year, following guidelines issued by the ministry, a 24X7 helpline was established in all Indian missions abroad, among other improvements, she said.

The missions have also started hosting the practice of an open-house with the Indian community, which is held by the heads of mission or posts, where grievances are heard immediately and whatever can be resolved is done on the spot, and action is taken subsequently to resolve pending issues, she said.

India has appointed welfare officers in all its overseas missions to look after the affairs of the Indian communities, said Durai.

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