Countries where foreign workers are mistreated would soon lose out to countries that deal with migrant workers favourably, according to the chief of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM).
"The day is not far away when any country which abuses or exploits foreign workers will find itself at a big disadvantage," IOM Director General Brunson McKinley, who was in New Delhi to sign a memorandum of understanding between IOM and the ministry of overseas Indian affairs (MOIA), told IANS in an interview.
"You see, there are a number of countries across the world which are facing increasing labour shortage and looking to import labour from other countries. So, if a worker is mistreated in one country, he can always opt to work in another country with a better reputation of treating foreign workers," he said.
McKinley said that in this age of globalisation, where migration by workers in search of better life is a regular phenomenon, it is important for host countries to treat foreign workers at par with local citizens.
"For example, salaries. I am not saying that foreign workers should be paid sky-high salaries. But at least they should be paid salaries comparable to what the citizens of the host country in a similar profession get," he said.
McKinley described illegal migration as a menace that needed to be curbed with a firm hand.
He lauded the initiative of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), which recently launched an amnesty scheme under which all illegal foreign workers were given three months to either get their papers right or leave the country.
There are around 1.4 million Indian workers in the UAE, and many of them have opted to take advantage of the amnesty scheme.
"The government of the UAE, I would say, is the most progressive among all countries around the Persian Gulf. And this (amnesty) is one example of its progressive policies," he said, adding he expected the other Gulf nations to follow suit.
Stating that it was imperative for the Gulf nations to treat foreign workers fairly, he said: "This is because of two reasons: the Gulf countries are totally dependent on foreign labour, especially labour from India, and two, reports of abuse, particularly domestic abuse, tarnishes that country's image as a labour importer."
"The Sheikhs have realised that they have to have good relations with labour supplying countries. They understand that they have to provide better working conditions to foreign workers."
There are around 5 million Indians in the Gulf, and many of them are involved in the construction boom that is taking place across the region.
Coming to IOM's work, he said that his organisation was looking forward to playing a more meaningful role to facilitate development of legal migration from India.
Though IOM has been involved in work like earthquake rehabilitation in Gujarat and counter-trafficking in the south, he said it had not really got much recognition in India till now.
"This MOIA recognition now is a very important step," he said.
Established in 1951, the Geneva-headquartered IOM is the leading inter-governmental body in the field of migration and works closely with governmental, inter-governmental and non-governmental partners. As of now, it has got 120 members and 20 observer nations, including India.
The new IOM-MOIA MoU on Regional Dialogue and Facilitating Managed and Legal Migration between India and the European Union (EU), signed on Tuesday, is aimed at facilitating development of legal migration, enhancing regional cooperation on legal migration management and enhancing dissemination of information relating to employment opportunities in EU countries.
According to the MoU, a project implementation unit (PIU) will be set up by the IOM, which will be housed in the MOIA offices. The PIU will take upon a priority basis tasks such as training sessions for workers and mutual capacity building, setting up of an overseas workers' resource centre in India; and import of Indian professionals to select EU countries.
Asked what kind of opportunities lie for Indian workers in the EU, McKinley said: "Many! The EU countries need people for the construction industry, they need assembly line workers in factories, people to man hospitals and healthcare set-ups for the elderly, skilled agricultural workers who can operate harvesting machines, vineyard workers, people in hotels and restaurants and also people for running holiday resorts like ski resorts."
Stressing on the importance of India as a labour supplying country, McKinley said that he was happy that this country was taking a pro-active role in promoting legal migration.
"And why not? Indian workers are assets not only in the countries they work in but also for the Indian economy. India receives 10 per cent - the largest share - of the total remittances sent by foreign workers across the world to their respective countries."
He said that it was important for IOM to have a full-fledged office in India, but added that it would be possible only when New Delhi becomes a full-fledged member of the organisation instead of being an observer nation as it is now.
So, when would India become a member of IOM? "That is for your government to decide," he said.