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As Jobs Vanish, UAE Rolls Out Protective Measures for Migrant Workers

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The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the global economy have been staggering. The outbreak has triggered the largest spike in unemployment the world has ever seen, with tens of millions of jobs lost in North America and Europe alone.  

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As the coronavirus continues to keep much of the world’s businesses closed, governments have had to make tough decisions on how to support the unemployed. While many countries have skirted responsibility in taking care of their workers, others have stepped up to the challenge.

The Arabian Gulf houses a substantial number of foreign workers that make up a vital component of the region’s economy. Unfortunately, lockdowns in the wake of COVID-19 have hit hardest the very sectors these workers tend to operate in such as construction, tourism, and hospitality.

For the UAE especially, conditions have become more challenging as many countries have refused to repatriate their own citizens working in UAE, including those who lost their jobs or were put on leave, due to fears of spreading the virus. “Several countries have not been responsive about allowing back their citizens who have applied to return home under the current circumstances,” said the Emeriti Human Resources and Emiratisation Ministry, without specifying which countries.

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Asian countries that make up the largest sources of migrant workers in UAE have stated that repatriating large numbers of their people will not be possible as long as strict quarantine policies remain in place. “Once the lockdown in India is lifted, we will certainly help them get back to their hometowns and their families,” said Pavan Kapoor India’s ambassador to the Emirates. On a similar note, Pakistan’s ambassador Ghulam Dastgir told media sources that he was waiting for permission from Islamabad to allow repatriation flights. “We are very keen to bring Pakistanis back but we need to finalize our treatment and quarantine facilities,” said Dastgir. What this means for Emirati leaders is that they are now responsible for thousands of stranded and jobless foreign citizens.

Despite this burden, the UAE has remained committed to supporting its foreign worker population. Recently, a major Emirates court ruled that laid-off staff must receive sustenance wages for the duration of their unemployment. Abdulla Al Nuaimi, head of the Abu Dhabi Labor Court ruled that UAE companies must continue to pay staff their housing allowance if they are made redundant.

“Normally, all labor issues go through the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation first before they reach us,” said Al Nuaimi in an official statement. But, he said, due to the current crisis, these cases are now considered “urgent matters” and plaintiffs can approach the court directly. This means workers can file a complaint and have it referred to a judge immediately.

Al Nuaimi’s directives were a reassertion of a government decision issued in March establishing various rights for the employees during the COV-19 crisis. The government order, Resolution No. 279, requires the continued payment of employees’ housing and all their entitlements until the individual leaves the UAE or they obtain the necessary authorization to work for another establishment.

The Emirates’ outreach to its migrant worker community appears to stands in stark contrast to the realities taking shape elsewhere in the Gulf.

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In Qatar, for instance, efforts to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have turned worker residential areas into virus incubators. The largest labor camp in Qatar for example—the so-called “Industrial Area” on the outskirts of the capital Doha—has already become what some reports describe as a prison, with residents still quarantined inside. Some of the Industrial Area’s workers are still employed, but others have been put on unpaid leave and confined to their homes.

Some areas of these camps have been completely locked down, making access to even food and medicine nearly impossible. International observers have pointed to the conditions in these camps as detrimental to preventing the spread of disease. According to Elizabeth Frantz of the Open Society Foundations’ International Migration Initiative, cramped and unsanitary living conditions mean that social distancing is “really difficult to achieve.”

Many migrant workers are recruited to work in construction and cleaning jobs, meaning they already endure respiratory health problems due to dust, pollution and heat stress, making them especially at risk to COVID-19. Even workers allowed out to reach their places of employment are hardly faring any better. Many construction and oil/gas companies, sectors that are big employers of migrant workers, are maintaining their operations without even basic health safety and mitigation practices, like providing face masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer.

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While the Qatari government has tried to introduce laws to ease the plight of workers, mechanisms have fallen short. According to Human Rights Watch’s Michael Page deputy Middle East director, “the authorities seem more interested in promoting these minor reforms in the media than in making them work.”

Migrant workers have been the very backbone of economic growth in the Gulf for decades. These workers have helped construct large, modern centers of commerce and tourism that have thrusted the Gulf nations into the international spotlight. Their work must be acknowledged and their rights protected, particularly during the current crisis.

Amin Farhad is a political analyst specializing in Middle East affairs, specifically intra-Arab relations and conflict resolution.

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Ladakh Now, Kashmir Next: Why India-China War Is An Attractive Option For Many In India?

I now believe that a big event is needed for the resolution of the Kashmir issue, and the India-China war could be that big thing – J&K resident 

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As India-China border standoff continues in Ladakh, people living in the Kashmir Valley see war as an attractive option. Kashmiris living in Jammu and Kashmir are rejoicing at the prospect of a war between India and China and expect something positive from the border clashes.  

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Kashmiris have taken to social media to share computer-generated images sarcastically reminding India about its inability to halt Chinese aggression. The pictures shared in Kashmir are completely in contrast to the anti-China images being shared in other parts of India.

Images shared include Chinese President Xi Jinping wearing a traditional Kashmiri garb preparing a traditional wazwan meal while another image shows Xi’s face superimposed over a local bus driver who is calling out to commuters that the bus is headed to Ladakh – the place where Indian and Chinese troops clashed.

Apart from the trolling on social media platforms, Kashmiris are also discussing the possibility of Chinese military occupying the disputed region. “Ladakh Kheow Chenan (Ladakh has been taken over by China)” is the most discussed topic these days. During a demonstration on June 21 in Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir’s largest city, protesters mocked the police by chanting “Cheen aya Cheen aya (China is coming)” slogans.

According to experts at EurAsian Times, discontent and gloom amongst Kashmiris have been on the rise since the abrogation of Article 370. The scrapping of Article 370 took away the special status enjoyed by the Kashmir and divided the state into two Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.

Most importantly, the abrogation of Article 370 by PM Narendra Modi led Indian government quashed the possibility of an independent Kashmir, a dream envisaged by many Kashmiris.

Following the historic decision, Kashmiris living in the union territory have complained about increased military presence, detention of people on arbitrary grounds and, lack of internet services and lockdowns.

Speaking to Nikkei Asian Review, Waqas Ahmad from Srinagar said that abrogation of Article 370 was the last nail in the coffin and it broke the back of every Kashmiri and the fear of settlement of outsiders seems a reality to all Kashmiris.

So far, the Indian government has granted 25,000 domicile certificates to non-locals which allows them to get a residency certificate for education, employment and buying land.

For Kashmiris, China Brings Hope

While Chinese aggression has been condemned by Indians across the length and breadth of the country, Kashmiris have endorsed China’s aggressive move. For them, the introduction of China spells ‘hope’.

Younis Ali, a political science student in Pulwama, explains the logic behind supporting the Chinese. He says that Kashmiris have tried everything to forward their cause including peaceful protests and militancy, but neither has yielded any results.

”I now believe that a big event is needed for the resolution of the Kashmir issue, and the India-China war could be that big thing,” Ali says.

Specialists on Kashmir also agree with what locals say. Gowhar Geelani, an experienced journalist Kashmir, says that people are of the view that a new geopolitical situation could be to their advantage in terms of ending the political uncertainty in Kashmir. He also noted that Pakistan’s weak economy and military “has also led some to pin their hopes on a stronger China.”

Michael Kugelman, a South Asia expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, explains that Kashmiri joy stems from seeing their oppressor bogged down by an emboldened, aspiring superpower that is a bitter rival of New Delhi and a close friend of Islamabad.

Speaking about human rights violation in the region, Ashok Swain a professor at Uppsala University in Sweden, says that Kashmiris are excited about the Ladakh clash because of the perception that China has become a party to the Kashmir conflict, after experiencing hopelessness and despair with “the near silence of the international community over serious human rights violation.

According to a report on the human rights situation in Jammu and Kashmir that covers the first six months of this year, at least 229 killings in different instances of violence have taken place in the region.

The report cites “extrajudicial executions of at least 32 civilians in J&K, besides killings of 143 militants and 54 armed forces personnel.” It was put out by the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, a prominent human rights group.

Swain adds that with the introduction of China into the Kashmir conflict, India has lost the military and diplomatic advantage it enjoyed over Pakistan.  China’s open opposition Article 370 as well as the strength it showed in the border clash have revived the hope of Kashmiris of an open alliance between Pakistan and China on the Kashmir issue.

At present, New Delhi and Beijing are looking for a peaceful solution to the conflict in Ladakh. Today PM Narendra Modi flew to Leh, Ladakh to take stock of the situation, boost the morale of troops and send a covert message to Beijing.

China was quick to announce its displeasure over Modi’s surprise visit to Ladakh and warned Indian from taking any action that may escalate the situation.

New Delhi and Beijing have been at each other’s throats since the first week of June. Both countries have engaged in the rapid military infrastructure development, troop buildup, air patrols, weapon deployment and even fistfights, which ended with casualties on both sides.

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EurAsian Region

China On Its Side, Pakistan Going All Out To Woo Russia; Counter India-US Alliance

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Pakistan Foreign Minister SM Qureshi in conversation with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov expressed Islamabad’s desire to have a long and multidimensional relationship with Moscow. Can the growing closeness between Pakistan and Russia change the political and diplomatic relationship between New Delhi and Moscow?

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The Russians are seeking the development of ties with Pakistan to limit the US influence in Asia,” wrote Farzad Bonesh, a researcher and analyst of international affairs. “But it should be noted that one of the most important goals of Russia’s foreign policy is to increase its international influence and advance its economic growth,” he added.

In recent years, the United States has had stronger ties with India than with Pakistan. With Washington’s strong stance against Islamabad’s inadequate response to the allegations of sheltering terrorists have led to weakened ties between the two nations.

“Pakistan is trying to use Russia to balance its foreign policies regarding India and the United States,” stated Bonesh. He further wrote that Pakistan is also trying to use its connections with Russia to gain advantages over the US by considering the regional and international confrontations and rivalries.

Russia and Pakistan plan to enhance their economic trade which was mere $800 million in 2018 but is expected to grow in the future. “So far, the two countries have been simplifying procedures and encouraging trade by establishing an intergovernmental commission on trade and economic cooperation,” observed Bonesh.

He further wrote that unlike the trade relations between Russia and India, which amount to $10 billion a year, the volume of trade is inconsistent with its real potential. “In fact, the current volume of trade between the two countries compared with the overall volume of Russia’s foreign trade is very small,” stated the author.

Till 2014, Russia had a policy of not supplying any weapons to Pakistan. According to the author, the continued cooperation between the US and India in a series of important agreements in the field of defence has resulted in Russia and Pakistan going forward with more defence cooperation and weapons trade.

Pakistan has shown support for Russia’s “intention to cooperate” with the Taliban. Bonesh believes that the security interests of Russia and Pakistan are also influenced by the security and political stability of Afghanistan.

“A significant number of ISIS forces moved to Syria from Russia’s Muslim republics and some of them have further moved from Syria into areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan”

The reason between the closeness between Russia and Pakistan can be due to “limiting the US’s influence”. However, the author believes that the cooperation and relations between Russia and Pakistan cannot create the conditions and basis for a strategic, lasting and interdependent alliance in the fields of security, politics and strategy, because, for Russia, India is still an important country in South Asia. Thus, Moscow is taking careful steps with Islamabad to continue having healthy relations with India.

He concluded with explaining Moscow’s concern that the expansion of its relations with Islamabad will force India to move closer to the United States. “India’s market is larger than Pakistan’s. The arms trade between India and Russia still has great potential, while the deals signed between Moscow and Islamabad so far have not been very important,” he concludes.

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Expert Reviews

Five Reasons Why India-Nepal Border Dispute, Bilateral Ties Went From Bad To Worse?

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India-Nepal border dispute has diplomatically isolated New Delhi in its own backyard. EurAsian Times gets you an analysis of why India-Nepal border dispute deteriorated and has jeopardized strong and healthy cultural, social, linguistic and economic ties between two nations.

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Nepal and India have garnered a reputation for being “world’s closest neighbours” and are one of the few Asian nations that share open borders. It is no coincidence that while thousands of Nepal’s Gurkha soldiers serve in the Indian Army, the small nation’s army chief is an honorary general of the Indian Army.

Nowadays, both India and Nepal are embroiled in a bitter border dispute. As EurAsian Times had previously reported, the spat with Nepal picked pace in May when India inaugurated an 80 kilometres long road originating from Ghatiabgarh and terminating at Lipulekh Pass, a disputed region claimed both by India and Nepal.

Post the inauguration, hundreds of youths in different cities of Nepal began demonstrating against the alleged encroachment by India. The Nepal Ministry of Foreign Affairs also objected and a few weeks later Nepal came up with the new map officially including the disputed territories of Lipulekh, Limpiyadhura, Kalapani as Nepali territories.

Birat Anupam, a senior reporter at Nepal’s National News Agency puts forward five factors causing long-lived resentment from Nepalis towards the Indian state establishments.

1.    Blockades on Nepal by India

The senior reporter believes that the blockades that India had imposed in Nepal in 1975, 1989 and 2015 have caused mass-infuriation towards the Indian state. 

He writes that “Land-locked Nepal is sometimes called “India-locked” because it borders India to the east, west, and south,” while maintaining that New Delhi had taken advantage of its geographical position.

 

2.    Nepal’s Border issues with India

The border between India and Nepal, about 1800 kilometres long stands wide open with no deployment of Nepali or Indian troops. The senior reporter writes that India’s has strong border guards deployed to protect adjacent Indian borders who have been accused of encroaching into Nepali lands.

“There are countless instances where Nepali migrant workers returning from India are extorted by Indian border guards. These incidents also serve to foster anger against India in Nepal,” he writes.

 

3.    India has claimed Buddha’s birthplace

It is globally known that Lord Buddha was born in Lumbini which forms an important part of Nepal not only due to its cultural and spiritual value but also due to its touristic significance.

However, India’s Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, during his address at the 74th session of United Nations General Assembly had rather said that India “ has given the world … Buddha’s message of peace”.

“This was widely criticized on social media platforms in Nepal, increasing anti-India sentiment among Nepalis,” writes Anupam. He also mentions that “some Indian films, books, and public figures say Buddha was born in India, generating strong public protests in Nepal.”

 

4.    India’s Big-Brother Behaviour towards Nepal

Nepal takes pride in being one of the oldest sovereign countries of South Asia even when other South Asian giants like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh were colonised, Nepal was free of the British clutches.

“However, many figures in Indian politics and media habitually call Nepal India’s “young brother.” Nepalis do not endorse the framing of India as Nepal’s “big” or “elder brother,” often used by veteran Indian politicians, intellectuals, and journalists,” emphasises the expert.

He criticises India’s narrative of being the big-brother due to the larger size and quotes Nepal’s Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli who stated that “Any country can be big or small in size or population … but nationality cannot be smaller or greater. All countries should get equal opportunity to exercise their sovereignty.”

5.    Unequal Diplomatic Agreements

India and Nepal share numerous diplomatic relations that includes several treaties and agreements. However, the reporter believes that the general masses of Nepal see these relations more largely beneficial to India than Nepal.

“For instances, the Gandaki, Koshi and Mahakali water agreements with India are heavily disliked by the majority of Nepalis. These agreements, they say, have given India the upper hand over the use and control of Nepal’s precious water resources,” writes the senior reporter.

Apart from the water agreements, the 1950 Peace and Friendship Treaty is highly unpopular in Nepal. Anupam says “there are strong civilian and independent intellectual voices calling to revise this treaty, which is seen as a formal diplomatic document putting Nepal under the Indian security umbrella,”

Originally Penned By Birat Anupam for Diplomat. Edited by: Vipasha Kaushal

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