70% of Indian citizens abroad are in 6 W Asian nations, shows data
For now, stranded Indians around the world, including workers and students, have been asked to stay where they are.
In the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic affecting Indians abroad, the government’s focus will be on six West Asian countries, which are home to seventy percent of India’s citizens who live abroad, according to data on overseas Indians maintained by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
There are 12.6 million non-resident Indians (NRIs), those holding an Indian passport but ordinarily residing outside the country, spread across more than 200 nations, according to the MEA. But 8.9 million of them live in just six countries.
Among them, the largest number of Indians, 3.4 million, live in the United Arab Emirates, which is approximately 27% of all NRIs around the world. Another 2.6 million are in Saudi Arabia while Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain were home to another 2.9 million NRIs.
For now, stranded Indians around the world, including workers and students, have been asked to stay where they are. A person familiar with the decision-making behind this position said, “This approach was adopted because of the suspension of international flights and the lack of adequate quarantine facilities in India following the coronavirus outbreak.”
But there have been mounting calls from stranded Indians to be allowed for various reasons. Some are students facing problems with food and accommodation because their hostels have been closed; others are workers who have lost their jobs; and others who simply wanted to be with their families in these challenging times.
By the third week of April, some 2,500 Indians had approached the Indian missions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai alone to seek help to return home, according to reports in local media. Authorities in Delhi have not made public the number of Indians who have sought to return from the Middle East, saying the situation is dynamic and changing rapidly.
The UAE government has been pressing governments in South Asia to allow the repatriation of workers who want to return home and has even offered to fly them out. This includes workers who have been laid off because the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 crisis.
Indians in the West Asian countries also account for annual remittances of over $40 billion, though most experts feel the figure will be far lower this year because of the Covid-19 pandemic coupled with the steep fall in crude oil prices. The World Bank has already estimated that remittances will shrink by 20% globally in 2020, while India, the biggest receiver of remittances, could witness a decline of 23%.
Talmiz Ahmad, who served as India’s envoy to Saudi Arabia, said at the moment, it was not clear how many Indians will return. He said it was also heartening that the West Asian states such as the UAE had shown understanding for India’s inability to bring back its expatriates. “We didn’t have facilities to quarantine people in large numbers and the West Asian states agreed to our request to look after our workers,” he said. “It was also significant that external affairs minister S Jaishankar spoke to several of his counterparts in West Asia and spoke out joint efforts against Covid-19. India also assured there would be no disruptions in food supplies – we are major suppliers of items such as rice and vegetables to these countries,” Ahmad said.