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7 Mar, 2024 14:56

‘Go to Israel, earn more, and die once’: Indian laborers willing to risk war and death to escape debt back home

Despite news of the first Indian being killed in a missile strike, desperate construction workers are applying for jobs via Israeli recruitment agencies as opportunities at home are scarce
‘Go to Israel, earn more, and die once’: Indian laborers willing to risk war and death to escape debt back home

Aman Kumar, 27, stands at the gate of a state-run industrial training institute, wearing an orange-colored paper wristband, waiting to hear the results of the test he completed to be recruited into Israel’s construction industry.

Israel, which has been at war with Hamas since October 7, is set to revoke the work permits of 90,000 Palestinians and replace them with Indian labor. In May 2023, India and Israel signed a memorandum of understanding which covered civil engineering.

Under that, in December, recruiters targeted 10,000 workers in the agrarian state of Haryana (where 52,000 applications were distributed and facilitated by the state government) and 7,000 in India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh (UP).

For eight days from February 28, a second round of recruitment took in UP's state capital, Lucknow. It ended on Thursday, with a total 6920 applicants in the fields of plastering, tile work, frame-work and bar bending. A total 4121 were selected.

RT spoke to aspirants as they waited, and they said it was not a short process. Aman, who was selected in December, has had to submit papers, health certificates, and undergo a thorough visa procedure. He holds a diploma as a structural ‘fitter,’ although he has taken the test for ‘bar bending’. He tells RT that he has been a fitter for three years, but his monthly salary is only Rs 10,000 ($121) with no job or social security. 

Like other young and middle-aged Indians lining up for the recruitment drive, his only aim is to earn more to support his family and pay their debts; he is all set to move to Israel. Aman’s family – from the bottom of India’s caste pyramid – is against his decision, and his parents have repeatedly asked him to find a job in India.

“It has been three years and my income has remained the same,” Aman tells RT. “There is no job or social security. No insurance and always the threat of losing the job. (Going to Israel) is one of the best opportunities to earn more. There is absolutely no option here. If you try to find another job then you will get offered less than what you are earning presently.  I think it is better to go there, earn more and die once.

“I can die here or I can die there. It is better dying with money in the bank than having parents take on debt for your funeral,” Aman adds.  

RT

According to the independent Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, India’s unemployment rate increased to 8% in February from 6.8% in January. 

However, according to data from the Periodic Labour Force Survey released by the National Sample Survey Office, India’s unemployment rate for people aged 15 and above was at a six-year low of 3.2% during July 2022-June 2023.

While waiting for his results, Aman tells his mother and sister over phone that the job in Israel is not in the war zone, and that he will be safe.

“I have been trying hard to convince them. My father does not talk to me much. They have read this week’s news of an Indian man killed in Israel and are more worried, but I feel I failed here because I have not been able to find a job that pays as per my capabilities and skills. This is a good opportunity,” Aman tells RT, showing off his recently-acquired passport. 

RT

Milan Maurya, 34, who hails from UP’s Varanasi, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s parliamentary constituency, traveled 313km (195 miles) to reach Lucknow in order to have his documents checked. He took the recruitment test in December and qualified.

“Before Covid I worked in Malaysia and was earning enough. Now in India I am not able to find a job that pays enough for my family and so I’m going to Israel,” Milan tells RT.

“My family doesn’t want me to move to Israel because they fear my life will be in danger, but I am earning Rs 15,000 ($181) here is not enough. I am in heavy debt so I decided to move to Israel.” 

He does not have any other skills beyond steel bending. “Finding a job in another sector is also tough and I do not see any future here. Our population has resulted in high competition where people are ready to work at any price. Underpayment and exploitation in India’s construction industry is due to its population and no one can help us,” he says.

“I have only to submit my medical report and I will be all set once they approve my visa,” Milan says. “I know my family is worried but timely payment will heal everything. I will be happier to see my children in good schools, my parents eating properly and my wife not worrying about shortages in the kitchen.”

Mazhar Aziz, a senior official at the state-run Industrial Training Institute (ITI) in Lucknow, told RT there is a huge demand for labor from UP, hence a second leg of recruitment in the state capital. 

“In the first drive of this recruitment in December, Israel’s agency selected about 5,000 workers who work as masons, tile fitters, carpenters and bar benders out of about 7,000 candidates,” he says. “In the second drive, what we hear is that the agencies aim to hire about 3,000 more workers and this can go up to 5,000. Those who qualified in the first round are now getting their visa.” 

RT

The government in New Delhi on Tuesday issued an advisory asking Indian nationals living in Israel’s border areas to move to safer parts of the country after an anti-tank missile attack near Israel’s border with Lebanon killed one foreign worker and seriously wounded two Indians

The spokesperson for UP’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Rakesh Tripathi, told RT that the unemployment rate both nationally and in the state is coming down because the government is generating jobs. “This Israel opportunity is just one option,” he said. “There are a lot of other opportunities available in India as well. Also, these workers won’t get deployed in Israeli conflict zones which the government has made clear.” 

Swami Prasad Maurya, an opposition politician who is vocal on caste and labor issues, says the government has failed to provide employment to the youth, which is why a large number of Indians are applying for jobs in Israel. 

“The government is thumping its chest on the growing GDP, but it is not talking about growing unemployment,” he told RT. “Isn’t it shameful that youth in such large numbers are trying to move to another country which is at war with a third country? The government should seriously look into this problem instead of bragging about job creation.”

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