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Widespread unemployment in India is at the root of labour migration to some of the world's conflict zones

When War is no Deterrent to a Desperate Job-Seeker

By Chandan Nandy, 360info Commissioning Editor in Sonipat


Unemployment at home pushes thousands of Indians to look overseas for work – even war zones. What’s missing is a coherent policy to protect them.

Migration is most easily explained in the following terms: people move from one country to another if the expected benefits exceed the costs. That is, if there are jobs and better wages.

But how do we explain the movement of labour from certain Indian states to countries at war,  such as Russia and Israel?

While illegal outmigration from India is nothing new — one study found that about 725,000 Indians now live illegally in the US — the movement of people to conflict zones reflects potential migrants’ desire to escape desperate conditions at home for a relatively better life elsewhere, even when confronted with human emergencies caused by war.

Indians migrating to Russia and then finding themselves thrown into the conflict as combatants, and hundreds of people in Uttar Pradesh and Haryana states signing up for jobs in Israel, underscore an important point: migrating to conflict zones is considered a better choice to the uncertainties caused by lack of employment at home.

recent report made two startling claims: one, about 83 percent of India’s youth grapple with “soaring unemployment”. Second, the proportion of educated youth (15 to 29 years old), with at least secondary level education, among the country’s total unemployed youth jumped from 35.2 percent in 2002 to 65.7 percent in 2022.

Most Indian states suffer from the unemployment scourge, but a handful stand out.

Unemployment in Haryana was 2.9 percent in 2013-2014, it then trebled in 10 years. Punjab’s unemployment rate stood at 8.6 percent in October 2023. Kerala recorded the highest unemployment in India with 28.7 percent in the 15-29 age group category even as the national average was 10 percent.

There is no official record of illegal immigration or how many Indians take to surreptitious means to enter a foreign country. The Indian government admits that it “encourages only legal form of mobility and migration” and only data on migrant workers is maintained.

The government does not curb illegal immigration – it cannot since it is a consequence of labour conditions at home – but it has information that “several unscrupulous” agents and travel agents use underhand means to advance their business of “manpower recruitment” for overseas employment.

Indian labour migration to the Arab Gulf countries has largely been orderly due to their strict immigration regulations and labour laws. But what about India’s migration policies? India has never had any dynamic, over-arching labour migration policy.

It would respond to the demands in the Gulf countries some of which have, from time to time, been embroiled in deadly conflicts. These responses were largely piecemeal.

The India-Israel labour agreement stems from New Delhi’s strong and “friendly” bilateral political relations with Tel Aviv.

Inked in May 2023, before the October 2023 Hamas attack on Israel, the agreement has been roundly criticised by activist organisations for not taking into consideration the security of Indian workers, especially when they were to work in a state not immune to violent cross-border conflict.

There is now no knowing how the latest round of conflict between Israel and Iran might unfold in the weeks, if not months, to come.

Indian authorities have, meanwhile, suspended the movement of workers to Israel.

While uncertainty prevails on when the security situation in the region might normalise, India will have to rethink its ill-conceived strategy to send – or allow – its workers to Israel and other conflict areas such as Russia and focus on instituting a sound and well-rounded policy that would meet the labour demand-supply needs elsewhere.


Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

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