The U.K.-based charity Human Rights at Sea has taken up the case of four Indian seafarers unlawfully detained in Kuwait since May 13, 2013.
Savish Singh Thakur and three other Indian nationals, Rajesh Kumar, Ali Mondel, and Ram Sowrop were contracted to work on a ship called Janan owned by an Iranian national.
The Janan arrived at a Kuwaiti port on May 13, 2013 where the four men and the Captain were arrested for the alleged illegal importation of contraband diesel. The five men were then detained in Police custody.
The Captain, Masood Khalif, had maintained that the diesel was fuel surplus reserve stock to power the vessel.
Three of the Indians remain in detention, one is confined to house arrest, while the Iranian Captain remained at liberty until May 2015 when he managed to leave Kuwait without having to answer the charges laid against him.
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 or with copies of the pleadings. The Irainian Captain attended all Court hearings and was provided with legal representation by the Iranian shipowners 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 defense.
The seafarers confirm that they are being pressured by Kuwaiti officials as well as members of the public to convert from their faith to the Muslim faith. Some of these people have shown willingness to help them on the condition that they convert.
The men genuinely fear now that the Captain of the ship has fled (presumably to Iran) that court proceedings will be directed against them in place of the Captain and the Iranian owners of the ship, both of whom 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.
Human Rights at Sea was informed of the case via the NGO Justice Upheld who have led the initial profiling and advocacy of the case from the U.K.
The Kafala System
The case is a reflection of the Kafala System under which the Indian seafarers are subjucated, says Human Rights at Sea.
“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 labor.
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 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, resigning or leaving 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 their arrest and subsequent deportation.
The kafeel has further been know to use their powerful position under the kafala system to seek revenge against migrant workers where the work relationship has broken down, by making false and malicious accusations to the police against the migrant. This inevitably leads to the arrest and imprisonment.
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 labor laws and conventions, says Human Rights at Sea. It is a system that supports and actively encourages slavery.
The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.