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Indian migrants face bleak future in Dubai

Shatrughan Sah (Photo: Prashant Ravi)
Mr Sah says his family is faced with starvation (Photos: Prashant Ravi)

The impact of the global financial downturn has been felt keenly in the Middle Eastern emirate of Dubai - and that in turn is affecting the remote Indian village of Akhopur in the state of Bihar, from where Amarnath Tewary reports.

In August 2008, Bharat Bhushan Tiwari - from Akhopur village in eastern Indian Bihar - took a loan of 71,000 rupees ($1,500) from a village moneylender to pay a local agent who had arranged a job for his son in Dubai.

Mr Tiwari - who runs a small shop - was hoping for better days for his family of five by sending his second son, Jay Kumar Tiwari, to the Gulf country.

Jay Kumar had got a job as a carpenter in a Dubai-based construction company and had big dreams - he wanted to earn a lot of money to pull his family out of grinding poverty.

But last month, their dreams came crashing down when Jay Kumar was asked by the company officials to quit by 6 March 2010.

'Cruel joke'

Dubai has been hit by an unprecedented financial crisis and the tremors are being felt in far away Bihar.

"This has been a cruel joke on our fate," Bharat Bhushan Tiwari told the BBC, trying to fight back his tears.

His other two sons are also unemployed and the Tiwari family now prays that the situation improves in Dubai.

Siwan (Photo: Prashant Ravi)
Siwan is dotted with money transfer offices and currency exchange centres

"Whatever money we had, we gave it all to send Jay Kumar to Dubai and now we are plunged into severe debt," Mr Tiwari said.

He is not alone in his misfortune, over 30 families in his village are suffering the same fate.

His two nephews, Rajan and Rakesh, have also been given notice to quit their jobs in Dubai.

Another villager, Shatrughan Sah, 28, says the future looks increasingly gloomy.

In November 2008, he took a bank loan of 88,000 rupees ($1,880) to find a passage to Dubai where he worked 15 hours a day as an iron-fitter in an Indian construction company.

Mr Sah earned 575 dirham ($156) and sent about 450 dirham ($122) home every month.

With no agricultural land, a thatched house and virtually no means of livelihood in the village, the Sah family survived on this money.

"Starvation faces the family now," Mr Sah said.

"I returned in October 2009 and since then I've been waiting for their phone call. I do not know how we have survived... Sometimes I feel like committing suicide," he told the BBC.

Non-existent

The village of Akhopur is in the district of Siwan - from where about 75,000 people work in the Gulf. Most work as masons, helpers, carpenters, fitters and drivers.

They often labour in abysmal conditions with little or no facilities, but many say they can at least earn a living since opportunities back home are non-existent.

But now, the flow of returnees is ever growing.

Jay Kumar Tiwari's family (Photo: Prashant Ravi)
Jay Kumar's family is dependent on his income for survival

"Every day the Dubai debacle victims are returning in hordes at Siwan railway station," a resident of Akhopur village said.

In Akhopur and neighbouring villages of Bindusar, Orma and Khalispur, every household has at least two people working in the Gulf.

Villagers say there are more than 300 agents in the district who send people to the Gulf countries after charging large sums of money from them.

"In every village in the district, you can find one to two local agents working as conduits," local journalist Pramod Kumar said.

At least two training centres have opened in Siwan district to train those going to the Gulf for employment.

"Migrants from southern India are mostly employed as engineers and computer professionals in the Gulf, but those from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh are basically engaged in manual labour," said Patna-based Ajay Kumar.

Mr Kumar has done extensive research on migration in Bihar.

"Siwan's economy revolves around remittances coming from the Gulf countries as the district has the highest bank deposits in the state," Mr Kumar said.

Every year the state receives about $253m as remittance money, he says.

The district sends the largest number of passport applications in the state and Siwan town is dotted with money transfer offices and currency exchange centres.

But with the Dubai debt crisis hitting migrants hard, Siwan - and Bihar - is likely to feel the pinch in the days to come.



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