The spread of the Covid-19 virus among Indian citizens in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries is posing a new challenge to the Union and some state governments. Reports say the migrant population, said to be about 8 million, has been affected in their thousands and the healthcare systems there are unable to cope with it. That most of these people are unskilled or semi-skilled workers, and live in residential systems where social distancing is virtually impossible, makes the situation really grim.
Indian migrants to the GCC countries need urgent intervention by New Delhi on two counts. First, ensure proper medical attention is given to those need it. At present, Indian voluntary organisations and business establishments which operate there are active in attending to the demands of their compatriots, arranging quarantine facilities and sourcing medicines. But they have their limitations. The government must immediately direct the Indian missions to take over the coordination of such efforts and ensure that every Indian who needs a helping hand is extended one. The government has started the process by sending a medical team to Kuwait; there must be more such efforts. The government must also explore the possibility of extending financial aid to those who might need it.
The second concern to plan for is the uncertainty over the future. Many of the migrants would want to fly back home. They must be counselled and convinced that it would be impractical to fly all of them home. They must also be told that it would be an unlikely choice for them, as a return to a region which is going through tough financial crisis due to an unprecedented crash in the oil price, would be nearly impossible.
Most rulers of the GCC nations are favourably disposed towards Indians for their contributions to their nations’ progress. Some of them share an excellent personal relationship with Indian leaders, such as prime minister Narendra Modi. This should work to India's advantage in ensuring the well-being of Indians, who are responsible for a big chunk of remittances from abroad.