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.”

Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

Updated 06 August 2020

Sri Lanka casts its vote under shadow of virus

  • Security crackdown as more than 7,400 candidates contest twice-delayed election

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka went to the polls on Wednesday to elect 225 members to its 9th Parliament amid tight security and health precautions to limit the coronavirus pandemic.

The polls were twice-delayed after President Gotabaya Rajapaksa dissolved the assembly in March and postponed polls scheduled for April due to the outbreak, before finally deciding on Aug. 5 as the date for general elections.

Mahinda Deshapriya, chairman of the Sri Lanka Elections Commission (EC), said police had been given “shooting orders” in case of security breaches and strict health protocols had been introduced at polling booths.

Deshapriya said that all 12,985 polling booths had been sanitized as a preventive measure.

The elections were completed at an estimated cost of $48.6 million, up from the $37.8 million spent during last year’s presidential polls.

Speaking to Arab News on Wednesday, Samuel Ratnajeevan Hoole, an EC member, said that a 60 percent turnout by noon was a “good sign of voters’ response.”

“Our voters are matured and informed now, and they will choose whom they want irrespective of any racial or religious differences,” he said, adding that there were fewer poll-related complaints this year compared with previous elections.

There were 46 registered political parties and 313 independent groups vying for the 225-seat parliament, with a total of 7,452 candidates in the fray – 3,652 fielded by 46 parties and 3,800 representing 313 independent groups.

According to the EC, nearly 16,263,885 registered voters could make their choice at the elections.

At this election, 196 members are to be elected at the district level under the proportional representation system to the 225-member parliament, while 29 members will be chosen from the National List. Under the 1978 constitution, the members are elected to the 9th Parliament.

Dr. Ruwan Wijemuni, general director of health services in Colombo, credited the voters for “lending their cooperation in full to make it a grand success.” At the same time, police spokesman Jaliya Senaratne said there were no reports of violence from any part of the island.

“There were minor scuffles on the eve of the polls in some parts of the island which were settled then and there,” he added.

Ismathul Rahman, 57, from the coastal town of Negombo, told Arab News that this year people were “keen to elect the right people” for their respective electorate as it was “crucial for the country’s economy.”

“It was a peaceful poll without any remarkable incidents of violence. The EC has managed the show well,” said Khalid Farook, 70, former president of the All-Ceylon Young Men’s Muslim Association, Wednesday.