Letter from New Delhi
When overseas Indians are in trouble, they contact India’s External Affairs Ministry on mobile or the net for urgent rescue
Every night, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj checks her Twitter and other social media accounts for about an hour. That is how she has proved to be an action oriented minister to solve urgent problems of the Indian diaspora members in distress.
The latest is the homecoming of a young Sikh woman and her eight-year old daughter stuck in a refugee camp in Germany after her in-laws duped her into going abroad. The woman made a video plea for urgent help on 2 February and Sushma Swaraj sprung into instant action so she landed in Delhi within 48 hours.
This is the latest rescue mission in a long list of emergency evacuations, both individual and en masse. During a recent speech, the minister said that she gets regular appeals for help from overseas Indians including women in the Gulf. Many women workers have their passports impounded by their employers and are mistreated. The minister’s first response is to inform the nearest Indian mission to fly her to India after an emergency certificate is issued by the mission in lieu of a passport to enable travel to India.
She keeps in touch with the distressed Indians on social media giving information on the progress of the rescue operation and with their family in India. During this, she gets details, starting with the mobile number of ‘the agent’ who sent the worker abroad. In most cases, these are fly-by-night operators not registered with the government. So she informs the state government about this ‘agent’ to check the registration. If the agent is not registered, then legal action is started.
When a person pleads for urgent help, the Minister takes up the matter with the nearest mission to gear into action. A deadline is set and if the matter is not resolved, the complaint moves to a higher level with colour coding until it becomes red. With social media, mobile app and a site, the ministry responds to distress pleas from anywhere and at all times.
Another site, www.emigrate.gov.in provides full information to workers who want to emigrate.
Soon after Prime Minister Modi took office in May 2014, the first rescue mission for around 100,000 Indians started from Ukraine in June 2014. Another 7,500 were rescued from Iraq within a few days. The mission in Yemen for 7,500 Indians and 2,000 others was more dramatic and dangerous.
The big problem is when overseas Indians do not follow advisories from the Indian government to leave their countries of residence in turmoil. Even after 3,500 had been brought back, Indians in Libya ignored repeated advisories and a few landed in dire straits.
Overseas Indians can count on prompt and effective help from India when in dire straits.
Kul Bhushan worked as a newspaper Editor in Nairobi for over three decades and now lives in New Delhi
* Published in print edition on 26 February 2016