x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Indian expatriate deaths spark concern

The suicide rate among Indian expats has increased by 30 per cent, with more support needed as the economic crisis hits.

CP Mathew, co-founder of the Valley of Love charity, comforts a former resident of Dubai at a hospital in Jaipur.
CP Mathew, co-founder of the Valley of Love charity, comforts a former resident of Dubai at a hospital in Jaipur.

DUBAI // The Indian Embassy will need to be prepared to provide more support as the global economic crisis bites harder, its consul general to Dubai said yesterday after the release of statistics on the deaths of Indian expatriates. The figures showed the number of suicides among Indian expatriates in Dubai rose from 118 in 2007 to 149 last year, more than 10 per cent of the total number of Indian expatriate deaths, 1,420.

Although there were no figures for previous years for Abu Dhabi, last year 26 suicides were registered among Indian expatriates. "The figures are a matter of concern. We as a community are providing the necessary support system and we would like to strengthen services," said Venu Rajamony, the consul general of India to Dubai. "At such a time stress levels are definitely higher, with people who think they may be losing their jobs, or losing their salaries. The tension which people live with can only go up so we need to be better prepared."

Several years ago the consulate set up a help line, and more than 355 people last year used the free counselling services provided by the consulate. Mr Rajamony said it also provided psychological counselling and medical support if needed. It was also working with construction companies to forestall suicides by workers. "A whole host of activities lead to suicide: from depression, to a period of frustration and then to loneliness when they feel they have no one to talk to, and others start noticing it too," he said.

"The people they live with are the best equipped to handle such cases and we have urged workers and camp bosses to be more sensitive." The Valley of Love, a charity that helps return bodies to India, handles about three calls a day and instructs people on the procedures involved in repatriating a body. CP Mathew, a co-founder of the Valley of Love, said in the past year the group handled 85 deaths, including 15 suicides. Mr Mathew said the suicides were troubling because they happened throughout the expatriate population, not only among construction workers.

"I go to the houses sometimes, where I talk to the person that may have stayed with an individual who has committed suicide," he said. "They know this person is going to do something terrible but there are no proper channels to help the guy. "If they wait around to help, then they can't get to work on time and may lose their jobs. They cannot complain to the company either because sometimes even the companies don't have any mechanisms to help, because they fear that the person who is suicidal, his visa will simply be cancelled and sent back home."

This year, Mr Mathew said, a number of families have been hit hard by several economic factors, including those who were unable to meet expenses back home because of an appreciating Indian currency. There were also families evicted from villas for sharing accommodation or who were unable to pay rent, and failing businesses and mounting debt. "I have heard of a lot of such cases and we need a different kind of awareness for this," Mr Mathew said.

"Some simply lack family affection. That's why also there are suicides that happen, because they cannot adjust to being on their own. If we can do some counselling and awareness sessions here, then that is what I would suggest." The statistics from Dubai also showed the number of Indian expatriate traffic deaths decreased from 230 to 219, while the 1,420 Indians who died in the emirate last year was a rise from 1,284 in 2007. Figures for the overall growth of the Indian expatriate population in the last year - which could account for the increase in deaths - were unavailable.

In Abu Dhabi last year there were 76 road deaths, 32 deaths from worksite accidents, a murder, six deaths from drowning and dog bites, and 264 died of natural causes. Mr Mathew said the total number of Indian expatriate deaths was likely to be higher. He estimated that at least 10 per cent of mortalities, including worksite accidents, were not reported to the Indian consular missions, especially if a labourer had entered the country illegally or if the body was "abandoned", where no identification papers were found.

The Dubai consulate's free, confidential help line is 050 9433 111. sbhattacharya@thenational.ae