President heads to Gulf, to launch helpline for Indian expats

The Gulf region is home to over 5 million-strong Indian diaspora.  In the United Arab Emirates, the first leg of her two-nation nine-day tour, Patil will launch an Indian Workers Resource Centre, which is designed to provide a 24-hour helpline and counselling services to workers from the country who are in distress.

An initiative of the ministry of overseas affairs, the centre has been established after complaints from many expatriate workers about various issues relating to their living and working conditions. The UAE is home to nearly 1.75 million Indian community.

"They very often do run into problems with their contracts and they need to contact the embassy in a hurry. They may be in distress, they may have injuries, they may need to be repatriated urgently, they may have a problem with the employer," Latha Reddy, Secretary (East) in the external affairs ministry, told reporters while briefing them on the presidential visit.

Reddy said the 24-hour helpline was needed so that the Indian workers could call at any time and added that funds will be made available for those in distress.  The MOIA will also be organising a meeting here of the Heads of Missions in the Gulf region by end of this month to address issues relating to the welfare of workers.

Patil is visiting the UAE at the invitation of its President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. Besides the president, she will be meeting top leaders in that country and discuss ways to expand economic and energy ties with the Gulf country. Apart from Abu Dhabi, she would travel to Dubai and Sharjah.

Indo-UAE trade, which stood at US$ 180 million per annum in the 1970s, was valued at US$ 43.4 billion in 2009-2010. UAE emerged as the top destination for India’s export with 13.41 percent share of exports in year 2009-10. UAE also ranks among the top five suppliers of crude oil to India.

Patil heads to Syria Nov 26, the first presidential visit to that country from India. She will hold delegation-level talks with President Bashar Al Assad. “Both sides will also explore investment opportunities in each other’s country,” Reddy said.  She added that regional issues like the Middle East Peace Process (MEPP) and Syria’s relations with its neighbours will also figure in discussions.

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