India to issue ‘discriminatory’ passports to migrant workers

India plans to issue orange-covered passports to some migrant workers, not the regular blue passport, pictured above. (AFP)
Updated 17 January 2018

India to issue ‘discriminatory’ passports to migrant workers

LONDON: The Indian government has drawn widespread criticism after it revealed a plan to introduce orange-colored passport jackets for some migrant workers. 
Legal experts and campaigners called the plan discriminatory and said it could increase the vulnerability of workers to being duped by middlemen who promise them jobs, often in the Arabian Gulf. 
Last week the country’s Ministry of External Affairs announced that migrant workers who need emigration clearance to travel to 18 countries would soon be issued with orange passports, instead of India’s traditional navy blue passport. 
Emigration clearance is required by those travelers who have not passed the equivalent of 10th grade at school.
“Passport holders with ECR (Emigration Check Required) status would be issued a passport with orange color passport jacket and those with non-ECR status would continue to get a blue passport,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar told Reuters on Friday.
The new orange-covered passports are supposed to protect vulnerable laborers from exploitation abroad.
The Foreign Ministry told The Washington Post the change will make it easier for immigration and law enforcement officers to spot travelers who require vetting before they leave for certain countries. The theory is it would also make human trafficking more difficult as border officials would know who needs extra permission to travel.
The plan has been roundly criticized, including by the leader of the opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, who tweeted: “Treating India’s migrant workers like second class citizens is completely unacceptable.”

S. Irudaya Rajan, professor at the Center for Development Studies in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, from where many migrant workers originate, said: 
“You cannot divide people on the basis of educational qualifications; it’s discriminatory.
“An orange cover shows a person is not well educated, and makes them vulnerable to exploitation. These are already vulnerable people who need more protection, not discrimination,” he told Reuters.
India is the world’s largest exporter of migrant labor. 
There are an estimated six million Indian migrants in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman. 
Some  are duped by job agents, and trapped in low paying jobs with few benefits or protections.
The workers are crucial to the Indian economy, with expats sending home $69 billion in 2015, making it the top nation for remittances, according to the World Bank.
The Indian government is still to release details of the plan, including a timeline for implementation.
“The government could argue that these passports are for the workers’ protection, but to a worker it may not seem that way,” Sehjo Singh, a director at advocacy group ActionAid India, told Reuters.
“The government must make clear how this system will work in favor of the workers.”

Vote count begins for Afghan election

Afghan election observers at a polling center after ballots in the country’s legislative election were counted in Kabul on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2018

Vote count begins for Afghan election

  • Some candidates said powerful figures were behind election rigging
  • The Electoral Complaints Commission said there was mismanagement during the election, and as of Sunday it had received some 5,000 complaints from voters and candidates

KABUL: Vote counting began on Monday for Afghanistan’s parliamentary election, which was marred by violence and irregularities, with political parties alleging “organized fraud.”

The parties said mismanagement and hundreds of Taliban attacks, which led to an extension of voting for another day at hundreds of polling stations, could raise questions over the election result, which is expected to be released in two months.

Some candidates said powerful figures were behind election rigging, and biometric devices, which were put in place to counter fraud, were smashed to facilitate the rigging. 

Abdul Bade Sayad, head of the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), was cited by local media as confirming incidents of biometric equipment being smashed, and the presence of strongmen inside some polling stations. 

But the IEC should not be held responsible for this, he said, adding: “When the government itself feels helpless before powerful figures, then senior officials of the commission should not be blamed.”

The Electoral Complaints Commission said there was mismanagement during the election, and as of Sunday it had received some 5,000 complaints from voters and candidates.

Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC) said people could not vote on Saturday in some 1,000 polling stations. 

Ahead of the election, which was delayed for more than three years, the government said it could not open more than 2,000 stations due to security threats.

Alleged irregularities included polling stations opening late, biometric devices malfunctioning, and the absence of IEC staff and voter registration lists.

Of the 9 million people who had registered to vote, nearly 4 million cast their ballot, the IEC said.

The IHRC said the IEC should not shun its responsibility regarding “shortcomings and grave violations in voting centers.”

The Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan said: “In some of the polling stations, ballots were not counted; instead the ballot boxes were transferred to a different location for counting… without informing the observers about the new location.”