With the fate of thousands of illegal Indian immigrants hanging in balance in the United Arab Emirates, Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy has urged the central government to take up the issue with the Gulf country to grant them legal resident status.
As the Sept 30 deadline set by UAE for deportation of all illegal immigrants is approaching, the chief minister made the request to External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, saying at least the deadline for exiting the country should be extended by a year.
Sixty per cent of the illegal Indian immigrants in UAE are from Andhra Pradesh and almost all are semi-skilled workers.
"I fully appreciate the legality of this matter and the compulsions behind the government of UAE's decision to expel these immigrants. However, there is a human angle to the problem and many of these illegal immigrants from Andhra Pradesh come from socially and economically deprived sections of the society," Reddy wrote.
The chief minister pointed out that they were exploited by unscrupulous people in India and UAE and have invested their meagre savings and earnings hoping to gain a better living for themselves and for their families. If they were repatriated immediately, many of them would be subjected to severe economic hardships.
Reddy also promised the union minister that the state would take all steps to ensure that people going to UAE and other countries do not fall prey to unscrupulous agents.
"Extending the deadline will help the immigrants plan carefully for their return and will minimize the economic hardship to their families," said the state's minority welfare minister Mohammed Ali Shabbir, who also looks after the affairs of non-resident Indians from Andhra Pradesh.
Shabbir was talking to newsmen after inaugurating the NRI cell in the state secretariat on Friday. The cell in the general administration department will attend the problems faced by NRIs from the state.
The minister said the cell would take steps to help NRIs in income generating activities after their return from abroad. "Special steps will be taken for those who may be sent back by UAE," he said.
The department of labour and employment, district rural development agencies and other departments have been directed to take steps to show gainful employment to those returning from the Gulf.
The cell will provide counselling and guidance to NRIs on several issues. It will liaison with various government departments like industries, finance and education. It will also offer consultancy in savings and investments for NRIs.
According to official figures, NRIs from Andhra Pradesh constituted the second largest community, numbering about 1 million in Gulf countries.
Saudi Arabia is hosting the highest number of NRIs from Andhra Pradesh at around half a million, followed by UAE (250,000), Kuwait (80,000), Oman (65,000), Qatar (35,000) and Bahrain (25,000).