GRM 2010 GRM 2011

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Regional Consultative Process and Irregular Migration to the Gulf: A Review of the Colombo Process
Paper Proposal Text :
As the world has become increasingly globalised and connected in the past few decades, migration of workforces across regions has increased. Since the 1970s, the Gulf region has emerged as one of the most favoured destinations for such migrants as the oil boom fuelled the growth of these economies. This is especially the case with migrants from South Asia and, increasingly, from other regions of Asia, especially South-East and East Asia. For example, the Indian migrants who live and work in the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states—Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates (UAE)—alone number approximately 7 million, up from 3.5 million in 2001. Therefore, in a short 14-year span, India has seen the movement of 3.5 million of her people to the GCC seeking employment opportunities. This migration has also resulted in significant remittances being sent back to India, to the tune of at least $30 billion per annum.
While the migration is beneficial to the sending countries—in that their nationals obtain jobs in the destination countries and remit considerable sums of money that is, in turn, pumped into the local economies—and to the destination countries—in that they can supplement workforce shortages given that their own population is far too less in terms of numbers to address their economies’ growing labour requirements—in the case of the Gulf states, there are many issues that require to be noted. The first is that the migrant to the Gulf works there on short-term work contracts that require periodic renewal. Second, citizenship is not granted to migrants in any of the Gulf states, irrespective of the source country. Therefore, migrants have little to no rights, especially those seeking redressal of grievances. Third, social polarisation is pronounced in most countries, with relatively few GCC nationals sitting at the top of the population pyramid, followed by proportionately vast numbers of non-national migrants. The Saudi case is different as the country has a significantly large indigenous population as compared to the smaller Gulf states. Finally, the migrants are further divided on the basis of both ethnic/regional origin and economic status and face issues of adjustment depending on location in the region, especially with respect to nationality, gender, religion and language and culture.
Labour laws in the destination countries, while facilitating foreign nationals to come to work in their territories, often tend to be skewed against migrant labour. There are many instances of contract and visa violations, abuse and exploitation that have been documented with respect to the working migrant in the Gulf countries. The source countries too have been witness to exploitative practices that often lead to their nationals landing up in trouble in the destination countries, at the mercy of unscrupulous agents and bad employers. There is thus growing realisation in both the source and destination countries to look into these matters so as to facilitate the movement of this migrant workforce to mutual benefit.
One such endeavour is by individual countries—both source and destination countries—to take up matters and try to resolve them at the bilateral level. To take the Indian example again, India has signed a number of Memoranda of Understanding with the GCC countries to establish a mechanism of bilateral cooperation for the protection and welfare of its citizens in the Gulf. The first of these was signed with Qatar in 1985; some of the more recent ones include agreements with the UAE (2006), Kuwait (2007), Oman (2008) and Bahrain (2009).
The other level at which such issues can be addressed is collectively at the multilateral level. It is here that the regional consultative process (RCP) mechanism comes into play. The Colombo Process, established in 2003 as the Ministerial Consultation on Overseas Employment and Contractual Labour for Countries of Origin Indian Migrants in the Gulf Countries in Asia, is an RCP established under the aegis of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM). It was launched by the labour-sourcing countries of Asia and serves as a platform for countries to collaborate on the management of overseas employment and contractual labour. The RCP began with the coming together of source countries—Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam—to address issues they were facing vis-à-vis their migrant workforces in other countries. In 2005, eight destination countries joined the RCP as observers: these include Bahrain, Italy, Kuwait, Malaysia, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Over the past decade and more, the Colombo Process has attempted to emerge as a forum to encourage ‘dialogue among the member states’ with the aim of contributing to ‘strengthening migration management both in the Asian region and in countries of destination’. Since the initial consultation in Colombo in 2003, member states have met in Manila (2004), Bali (2005) and Dhaka (2011) to ‘to review and monitor the implementation of previous recommendations and identify areas of future action’. Its achievements have been as follow:
1. Share experiences, lessons learned and best practices on overseas employment.
2. Sharing of good practices, data and information through regular dialogue among countries of origin of overseas contractual workers in Asia.
3. A comprehensive training curriculum for labour attachés and overseas employment administrators was developed and training courses implemented in Kuwait (2004), Bangkok (2005), China (2006), Islamabad (2006), and Bangladesh (2008, 2009).
4. A regional workshop for employment agencies in Asia on placing workers in Europe and ethical recruitment was held in Manila (2006).
5. A feasibility study to establish an Overseas Workers Resource Centre (OWRC) in one of the labour receiving countries in the GCC has been completed. This could provide vital information and support services to labour migrants and governments.
6. Implementation, at the national level, of recommendations adopted at the Ministerial Consultations.
This paper seeks to examine the Colombo Process RCP with respect to mitigating migration related issues in the context of the Gulf states. It will look at India’s participation in the RCP in particular and analyse how the multilateral mechanism has fared vis-à-vis a bilateral approach.