printer friendly versionPrint
Indian nun gets results in work with migrants, domestic workers

02 Mar 2018 – By Philip Mathew

BANGALORE, India (CNS) — Sister Josephine Amala Valarmathi was not surprised when she got a telephone call around midnight in the last week of October 2016. On the other end was a fisherman who goes by the name Veerghese.

He was among 15 fishermen from the southeastern Indian state of Tamil Nadu being kept in custody without food and water on Kish Island, off the southern Iranian coast. The Iranian Coast Guard had arrested them for entering their territorial waters Oct. 22, 2016. The Indian workers of a fishing firm in Bahrain, across the Persian Gulf from Iran, were seized as they were returning home in three boats after deep-sea fishing.

Sister Valarmathi promised help and ended the call. The member of the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary spent the next six months working on their behalf.

Finally, April 6, 2017, the fishermen landed at the airport in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu state. Among those present to receive the distraught group was Tamil Nadu's fisheries minister, who also arranged buses to take them home.

“But for Sister Josephine, we would be still languishing in the Iranian jail. Her prompt and efficient intervention saved us. We are so grateful to her,” Veerghese, captain of one of the boats, said in a phone interview from his home in Kanyakumari, Tamil Nadu’s southernmost district.

Sister Valarmathi, who is based in Chennai, said she often gets such distress calls from migrant and domestic workers of Tamil Nadu’s coastal towns, where she has spent 15 years as a social worker. Thousands of people from the region work in the Persian Gulf countries, Malaysia and Singapore as construction workers, drivers or cattle ranchers, or doing domestic and unskilled work.

“I am quite familiar with the problems of Indians working overseas,” said Sister Valarmathi.

She said providing free legal aid to migrant workers in their destination countries is necessary to end their exploitation by employers and employment agents. Numerous cases could be avoided, she said, if Indian embassy officials would join civil society organizations in those countries to educate workers on local laws.

The nun said her priority since 2003 has been to organize awareness programs for migrant workers on safe legal migration procedures so that they could avoid exploitation and fraudulent recruitments.

“Workers going overseas must be given pre-departure orientation and training. This will make a huge impact on their lives and work in a foreign country,” she said.

She also wants bilateral policies to respect international conventions that could prevent abuse and exploitation of migrant workers.

In 2011, in addition to the training and policy work she was doing, she was forced to take up the tedious and time-consuming rescue operations after she started receiving complaints about exploitation overseas.

In Veerghese’s case, Sister Valarmathi contacted Tamil Nadu ministers and government officials the same night she received his call. The following day, she contacted federal external affairs officials and the Indian embassy in Iran. She alerted Indian government officials on Twitter. She also contacted a few Indians working in Iran to make arrangements to take food and water to Veerghese and his companions.

1 | 2 |