Human Rights at Sea has been informed via the NGO Justice Upheld of the case of four Indian seafarers under house arrest in Kuwait and unlawfully detained since 13 May 2013. The case also raises the issue of the subjugation of seafarers under the Kafala System. Human Rights at Sea is now supporting the case.
The case has been reported by the NGO on its own platform and is reproduced below.
Savish Singh Thakur from Punjab and his fellow three Indian nationals, Rajesh Kumar, Ali Mondel, and Ram Sowrop, from Bihar, West Bengal and Rajastan respectively, all four are seafarers contracted to work on a ship called ‘Janan’ owned by an Iranian national called ‘Mohammed Ganif Abadi’ and managed by ‘Abu Shehen’.
The ship was captained by a fellow Iranian called ‘Masood Khalif’.
The Janan arrived at a Kuwaiti port on the 13th of May 2013 where all four men including the Captain, Massood Khalif were arrested for the alleged illegal importation of contraband diesel. The five men were detained in Police custody and three of the Indian nationals continue to remain in detention since the 13th of May 2013. Whilst the Iranian Captain Masood Khalif remained at liberty until May 2015 when he managed to leave Kuwait without having to answer the charges laid against him.
Savish Singh Thakur is confined to house arrest at the address of his sponsor and his fellow nationals are in Poice custody.
Captain Masood Khalif had maintained that the diesel was fuel surplus reserve stock to power the ship ‘Janan’.
Despite being subject to legal proceedings, the Indian nationals have not been informed of the charges against them or served with copies of the charge sheets and/or with copies of the pleadings. The Irainian Captain attended all Court hearings and was provided with legal representation by the Iranian ship owners whilst the Indian nationals were unrepresented and denied the opportunity to appear before the Court to learn of the case against them and present their defence. They genuine fear now that the Captain of the ship has fled (believed to have returned to his home country Iran), court proceedings will be directed against them in place of the Captain and the Iranian owners of the ship both of who were ultimately responsible for the ship.
The Indian Mission in Kuwait has failed to provide the men Consular support and legal advice since their arrest in May 2013 to date. The Mission continues to be oblivious to the plight of their fellow nationals and they have to date ignored all requests to intervene and support their nationals.
The men confirm that they are further pressured by the Kuwaiti officials as well as members of the public they come across to convert from their faith to the Muslim faith. Some of these people have shown willingless to help these men on the condition that they convert.
This is yet another case of Indian nationals exploited abroad, in particular by their employers in the Gulf region and a failure by the Indian mission in Kuwait to attend to the Indian nationals and providing Consular support and offer provisions for legal advice. This lack lustre approach by the Indian authorities begs the question why they fail to support their fellow nationals. The fundamental sign of a civilised and democratic country is how it treats and supports its nationals.
The case is also a reflection of the Kafala System which operates and under which the Indian seafarers are subjucated.
What is ‘Kafala’?
‘Kafala’ is an Arabic word which means ‘sponsorship’. Kafala operates in the Gulf States and it is unique to these Middle Eastern States.
The ‘Kafala’ system allows nationals of the Gulf States to employ non Gulf nationals. It also enables the exploitation of foreign migrant workers as well as encouraging and facilitating forced labour.
The power is entirely in the hands of the employer/sponsor known as the ‘kafeel’ (sometimes spelt ‘Kafil’). The kafeel can be an individual or a company and has the authority and responsibility to issue employment visas and ‘iqamas’ (work permits).
The kafeel can dictate the conditions and terms of work, including the accommodation of the work migrant. In fact, the sole bargaining power rests in the hands of the kafeel to control the migrant workers, including legal power to control the work migrants.
It is the duty of the Kafeel to ensure that employment visas, work permits and related legal obligations are updated. However, this is dependent upon and maintained according to the nature of the each individual kafeel. There are many cases where the kafeel has unbeknown to the work migrant, failed to renew their work visas and permits which has resulted in the work migrant being forced to work without being paid for months. They are too frightened to leave the kafeel to report the matter to the Police since the Police will arrest and jail the work migrant for not having valid immigration documents. This often means months and even years of imprisonment.
The migrant worker is prohibited from changing jobs, resign and/or leave the country. If a migrant worker leaves his employment, the kafeel has the unilateral power to cancel the migrant worker’s right to remain in the country (that is cancel the work migrant’s residence which will render the migrant worker an illegal immigrant and most likely will result in his or her’s arrest and subsequent deportation.
The kafeel has further used his/her powerful position under the kafala system to seek revenge against the migrant worker where the work relationship has broken down, by making false and malicious accusations to the police against the work migrant. This inevitably leads to the arrest and imprisonment of the work migrant, disrupting and delaying his/her repatriation to his/her home country.
The subjugation of the Kafala system has resulted in migrant workers referring to kafeel as their ‘owners’.
The kafala system is archaic, medieval, brutal and is in absolute contradiction of international labour laws and conventions. It is a system that supports and actively encourages slavery.
Note: Human Rights at Sea has faithfully reproduced the above case with permission. HRAS can not be responsible for the details or opinions held by the original author.