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Why did Gulf countries come to the rescue of Kerala during the flood?

helping hand

By Danish MC

Why did Gulf countries come to the rescue of Kerala during the flood?

The modern history of brotherhood between Kerala and the Middle East started in the mid-1960s due to the migration of workers, who were mostly unskilled, from Kerala to middle east. These people emigrated in dhows illegally with no guarantee that they would reach their destination out of desperation as they didn’t have anything back home. That desperation made them succeed in the countries that they migrated to, in turn sending huge amounts of remittance back home which was used to develop Kerala into what it is today. Around one lakh crore rupees comes to the coffers of Kerala per year from these hard-working migrants today. The remittances form around 36% of GDP of Kerala which has done a lot in alleviating people from poverty and has risen the standard of living for a vast number of people in Kerala.

The reason behind the middle eastern countries requiring such a huge amount of labourers can be attributed to the discovery of huge oil reserves in the 1930s which started yielding enormous amount of profits from 1950s onwards. This made these countries rich overnight which was unparalleled in the history of humankind. The new money was spent to modernise and develop the region. This required a huge amount of labor force which these countries lacked. At the same time, India was facing immense unemployment in the country. This led to a mass migration of people from Kerala to the middle east in search of unskilled jobs. The migrants earned respect in the community back in Kerala quickly and they were sought after as bridegrooms and they were able to marry into wealthy and influential families despite having other shortcomings. Unlike their European or American counterparts, the migrants who go to the middle east always come back home as most of the middle eastern countries do not grant citizenship to migrants.

The migrants from Kerala can be broadly classified into four categories. The first ones are entrepreneurs who have blossomed due to their hard work and commitment. The second group consists of assistants of wealthy Arabs who have also made a lot of money. The third group is the growing number of professionals who also earn decently and are able to make a good living. The fourth group which includes the vast majority of people are unskilled labourers who struggle to make ends meet. These unskilled labourers live a life where they have to work hard in a harsh climate with nobody to support or love them and live a life which is devoid of any fun. These people spend their good years of life toiling for their family who live in relative comforts with a lot of economic autonomy since there is no one to question them in their spending habits. They face a harsh truth back home once they retire as their family and friends will turn their backs on them since they don’t have ‘Gulf Money’ like they used to have. They also face resentment from their family as the family loses the autonomy over spending habits which they were used to.

A lot has changed in 50 years as migration from Kerala has reduced in the recent years. The number of migrants has gone down to 22.4 lakh in 2016 from 24 lakh in 2014 as per the latest data of Kerala Migration Survey 2016 conducted by Professor Irudaya Rajan of Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram. According to Professor Rajan, the main cause of a decline in migration is due to the birth control policies adopted by Kerala in the 1980s and 1990s. Most of Keralites preferred having fewer children and this has made Kerala the state with least birth rate among all the states in India. This also led to Kerala having the least number of people in the 20-34 age group in India who are prone to migration. The declining wage gap between Kerala and the Middle East is another reason for the decline in migration as people prefer working in their own state with similar wages. The influx of labor from other Indian states as well as other countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal bought the wages down in the Middle East. Employers reducing the number of employees after the oil crisis as a cost-cutting measure didn’t help either.

The prosperity which distinguished Kerala from the rest of India was primarily due to its bond with the middle east. There was a lot of fundraising activities in the middle east region for the reconstruction activities in Kerala which was wholeheartedly welcomed by both migrant communities and locals in the Middle East. There were also instances where volunteers(expat Keralites) flew down to Kerala to help with cleaning up after the flood. The current scenario(Check out Saudi Arabian Oil Crisis, Reforms and Its Impact) due to oil crisis suggested that it might be coming to an end. But the love and affection shown by middle eastern leaders to the people of Kerala suggests that it is far from being over.





  1. Zachariah, K.C. & S.Irudaya Rajan (2012) Inflexion in Kerala’s Gulf connection : report on Kerala Migration Survey 2011. CDS working papers, no.450. Trivandrum: CDS.
  2. Economic and Political Weekly, Vol. 33, No. 50 (Dec. 12-18, 1998), pp. 3209-3213
  3. Ameerudheen, TA. “Staying Home: Migration from Kerala Declines for the First Time in 50 Years.” June 13, 2017. Accessed August 23, 2018.
  4. “As Kerala Diaspora in Gulf Sees Downturn of Fortunes, Migration Experts Warn of 5 to 10 Percent Fall in Remittances.” Firstpost. January 14, 2018. Accessed August 23, 2018.
  5. “Crucial Kerala Diaspora Study Begins.” GulfNews. January 03, 2018. Accessed August 26, 2018.
  6. Madampat, Shajahan. “The Paradoxical World Of The Gulf Malayali.” HuffPost India. July 15, 2016. Accessed August 26, 2018.

Danish MC, the author, is a third year economics honors student from Jindal School of Government and Public Policy.

Featured image source: UCI Staff Assembly

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