Feeling the Gulf: Meet the men who returned from Saudi Arabia in wake of its 'nitaqat' law
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SHAJU PHILIP, HAMZA KHAN & FAISAL FAREED meet eight men who have returned from Saudi Arabia in the wake of the country's nitaqat law. In the years they spent in the country as unskilled or semi-skilled labour, they shifted jobs, moved secretly, renewed work permits by paying hefty amounts, and lived in bonded labour-like conditions — till one day, the Saudi government fixed a deadline and they had to leave.
With little professional qualification and few prospects at home, these men moved to Saudi Arabia hoping for higher wages, some as recently as four years ago and others more than two decades back. In March this year, their hopes came crashing as the Saudi Arabian government announced the nitaqat law, making a certain percentage of local labour mandatory for its firms. With the deadline to leave ending last month, 17,000 Indian immigrants have returned to Kerala and 5,200 to Uttar Pradesh. Unable to regularise their stay or find valid work permits, most had little choice — either to stay in hiding for months or return home to unemployment and debt. From Kerala's Malappuram and Kozhikode to Uttar Pradesh's Malihabad and Azamgarh, their stories are similar, both in how they began and how they have ended.
End of the rush
Although the figure of returnees from among the 16.25 lakh people from Kerala living abroad does not indicate a massive exodus, it marks the end of a breed of job seekers who jumped onto the Gulf bandwagon. Saudi Arabia has always been a major destination for Kerala migrants. According to Kerala Migration Survey 2011 — conducted by the Centre for Development Studies and Non-Resident Keralite Affairs Department — 37.5 per cent of Kerala migrants were in Saudi Arabia. Among the 14 districts, Malappuram accounts for 18 per cent of immigrants. Emigration in Kerala has always been dominated by Muslims (44.3 per cent), and of the 17,977 returnees registered with the state government as on November 11, as many as 10,940 hailed from north Kerala.