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Why do Indians Visit Libya for Employment despite Travel Ban?

Appeal to Indians to leave

On 19 April, 2019, I received a message on WhatsApp from one of my relatives in Dubai. Normally he does not bother to forward messages. Curiously, I opened the link. The headline of Khaleej Times read thus: “Indians urged to leave Tripoli immediately” (19 April, 2019). The story further led me to the following details:

Indian External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Friday called upon relatives of Indians residing in Tripoli to ask them to leave the Libyan capital immediately, saying the situation there is fast deteriorating.

"Even after massive evacuation from Libya and the travel ban, there are over 500 Indian nationals in Tripoli. The situation in Tripoli is deteriorating fast. Presently, flights are operational. Please ask your relatives and friends to leave Tripoli immediately. We will not be able to evacuate them later," she tweeted.

Soon concerned relatives in India looked worried about our stay in Libya. We began to receive calls and messages simultaneously. One of my brothers in Delhi looked anxious. He messaged: “All Indians should leave Libya immediately. Situation is grave. You should also take it seriously.”  He also sent a newspaper link of Aaj Tak in Hindi: “लीबियासंकट: 500 भारतीयफंसे, सुषमानेकहा- जल्दनहींनिकलेतोफंसेरहजाओगे” (19 April, 2019). And then there was no end of news about agony and suffering of Indians in Libya. Particularly, the head caption of The Indian Express (April 20, 2019) drew my attention: “Libya: Sushma Swaraj urges Indians stranded in Tripoli to leave immediately”.

Panic tweet by Sushma Swaraj

We are glad to know that government of India is concerned about its citizens in Libya. However, are Indian nationals living in Tripoli or elsewhere in Libya really ‘stranded’ or feel ‘threatened’? Do they really have no means to move anywhere? How does Ministry of External Affairs obtain data for exact number of Indian nationals living in Tripoli or for that matter in Libya despite the ‘travel ban’ on Indian nationals? The panic tweet by Sushma Swaraj “Please ask your relatives and friends to leave Tripoli immediately” simply adds to the anxiety of families in India.

Travel Advisory for Indian nationals

From time to time, the Indian government through its Embassy in Tripoli has issued advisories. The recent advisory entitled “Travel Advisory for Indian nationals visiting Libya” reads thus:

In view of the deteriorating security situation in Libya, Embassy of India issued several advisories for Indian nationals to avoid travel to Libya; the first such advisory was issued on 28 July 2014 and still remains valid.

The Embassy reiterates it advisory and urges all Indian nationals present in Libya to exercise extreme caution and vigil, avoid visiting sensitive areas and restrict their movements. They need to take extreme precautions while moving within Libya and to plan their movement and travel after ensuring the safety of the route.

The security situation in Libya is still unsafe and unstable. The Indian nationals are once again advised not to travel to Libya and not to take up employment in Libya till the situation normalizes completely.

Embassy of India, Tripoli

31 December 2018

Why do Indians travel to Libya despite ban?

Despite strict travel ban, why do Indians trouble to come to Libya for employment? If life in Libya is really so threatening, why do Indians still work in most of the cities in this country?

It is very difficult to assess exactly how many Indians are currently working in Libya due to the travel ban. Even the Embassy of India in Tripoli may not be able to state the actual numbers.

In order to avoid travel ban, often Indian nationals obtain visa for a third country before they come to Libya, thus making it difficult for the government of India to know exactly how many Indians are working here.

Indians are a highly respected community in Libya. They do not have immediate threat to their lives and properties. Most of them work in universities, hospitals and companies which are normally secured places for employment. Cities like Zliten, Misurata, Sirte have healthy working environment. No report of any harassment has been reported so far. 

If at all Indians work in Libya despite travel ban, they do so at their own will and convenience. They have not been forced to visit Libya for jobs. In Zliten and Misurata alone, there could be hundreds of Indian nationals at cement and steel factories. They are comparatively safe and feel secure to work. 

Undoubtedly, the situation in Tripoli is worsening. However, the Indians staying in the capital of Libya are not naïve. Most of them have been here for a long time and have climatized themselves with yjr changing social and political conditions. 

Mrs. Lata, a gynecologist from south India has been staying in Libya for the last 35 years. By this age, already retired, she should have been in India with her family, yet she is working here. Once being asked about her future plan to settle in India, she said: ‘It is difficult for me to stay in India. I can’t cope up with fast and competitive life there. My children having settled in America, Libya is quite a safe and calm place for me.’

With job opportunities shrinking in India, youths look for opportunities elsewhere. A few days back, an Indian national contacted me by phone about his future prospect in Libya. He is an electrical engineer and has got a prestigious job in one of the multinational companies in Tripoli. He is planning to travel.

Mechanism to assist Indian nationals to work in Libya

There are hundreds of stories as such that speak about Indians desperately trying to find employment in Libya.

It does not mean at all that Libya is a dream place. Undeniably, internal conflict continues to bleed Libya from within. But that does not mean that Libya is hostile to Indians. The armed conflict in Libya is in no way a direct threat to Indian workers. Libyans do not have grievances against them. That is their internal political affairs. On the contrary, they acknowledge the contributions made by Indians in different walks of life.

Instead of writing panic tweets, government of India should chalk out suitable mechanisms to assist Indians who are working in reputed multi-national companies and universities with paid vacations and tickets. A few isolated incidents which may happen in conflict zones anywhere should not be made the norm to issue statements to leave this foreign land immediately. This reflects the growing ignorance of the government about the ground reality of its citizens in Libya on the ground.

So far, as to my observation, there has been no report of any causality among the Indian nationals in Libya. They are generally very safe and cautious. Instead, the government of India should express deep concern about the manner in which two Indians were executed in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia without even being notified to the Indian authorities.

Travel ban for Indian nationals or tweeting to leave Libya immediately do not reflect the maturity of decision on the part of the government. Indians have a long history of working in challenging environments be it in India or abroad. Facilitating the means and assisting them to continue working in better places of Libya signal the positivity of approach with regard to the Indian immigrants in Libya. This will also keep India engaged with the transitional government in Libya.

The author is lecturer in the Faculty of Education, Gulf of Sidra University, Bin Jawad, Libya

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