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International Migration

Asianization of Migrant Workers in the Gulf Countries

Published on April 29, 2021


Asia’s historical contacts with the Gulf region date back to ancient times. Many historians have documented the existence of Indian settlements and merchant guilds in Aden and other prominent Gulf ports prior to the discovery of oil in the region (Secombe and Lawless 1986). In the beginning of the nineteenth century, the industrialization process, pearl trading, Haj and the requirement of skilled workers in the ports had prompted the flow of Indian migrants to the Persian Gulf region. These included ordinary artisans, masons, technicians, clerks and administrative personnel during the colonial times, largely to support the British colonial apparatus in the region (Kumar 2016). The colonial rulers used ‘Indian subjects’ as treasured resources to sustain and operate critical ventures like communication, education, health, bureaucracy, postal services and so on. Later, in the 1930s major Western oil companies like Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) and Aramco Gulf Operations Company Limited and Petroleum Development Qatar (PDQ) employed a substantial number of labourers from the subcontinent and a recruiting office was established in Surat (Kumar 2016). Thus, by late 1950s, Indian and Pakistani migrant workers constituted the largest workforce in many Gulf countries particularly in Kuwait and Bahrain.