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COVID-19 job scam: Kerala nurses stranded in UAE, urged to report to Indian missions

Dubai: When the entire world was cheering their fellow nurses on the International Nurses Day earlier this month, Indian nurses Reena Rajan and Susan Saji were staring at an uncertain future.

They are among several nurses from the south Indian state of Kerala who have been stranded in the UAE after falling prey to a fake job scam devised by some recruitment agencies in the state.

Though hundreds of nurses have been reportedly duped after paying up to Rs350,000 to recruitment agencies, there is no clarity on the exact number of victims as most of them have not lodged complaints with the authorities, according to the Indian Consulate in Dubai.

Speaking to Gulf News on Wednesday, Dr Aman Puri, Consul General of India in Dubai, said stranded nurses must report the matter to the mission so that they can be assisted with repatriation.

“We have been in touch with the associations and community groups. So far, nobody has approached us seeking help for repatriating stranded nurses. The consulate is willing to assist whoever needs help. If anyone complaints about any recruitment agency, we will forward it to the state government for taking action,” he said.

Big promises

According to some of the victims who spoke to Gulf News, several male and female nurses from Kerala were offered fake jobs at various COVID-19 vaccination and testing centres and also private and government hospitals in the UAE.

While Rajan and Saji landed here in March along with three other nurses from their hometown in Kollam district, another group of nurses had come over as early as in October last year.

“A political party worker connected us to the agent from Take Off Recruitment Agency in Kochi, saying that his daughter had got a job at Rashid Hospital in Dubai for COVID-19 vaccination duty for a salary of Rs100,000. We were told we would also get such jobs for a higher salary,” said Reena.

She said she was earning only Rs13,000 at a private hospital in Kerala while Susan was getting a salary of Rs20,000 at a hospital in Delhi. The duo paid Rs230,000 each to the agency to come over to the UAE on visit visas.

“We had to take loans. We have left behind our toddler children because we wanted to earn a better living for our families,” said Saji.

Ignored warnings

They said they were told not to disclose to the immigration officials that they were flying out to work as nurses. “We were questioned by the immigration officials. We didn’t lie to them. A female officer then warned us that there were scams going on, but we didn’t listen to her and said we were hopeful about this offer as someone from our known circle said that his daughter had got a job [through one such agent],” Rajan explained.

Saji said some of the nurses, who were accommodated with them in Al Rigga, were new mothers. “They had left behind their newborn babies for a better job.”

When there was no sign of a job after a forced quarantine for a month, she said the nurses realised they were trapped. “When we questioned the agents, they told us to work as home nurses, which we didn’t agree to.”

Different modus operandi

Another nurse, who did not wish to be named, said: “We were around 12 nurses from different districts of Kerala who came in October. We had paid Rs350,000 to the agency called Key Dot. We had also spent money for taking special coaching for attending the exam for DHA [Dubai Health Authority] licence before falling for their bait.”

She said they were given offer letters from a private hospital in Dubai, which looked genuine. However, the letter was changed while they were at the airport.

“We didn’t even get the time to read it properly. After reaching here, all of us were kept in a cramped room. There were men also in the other rooms.” When they realised that they had been trapped, she said the nurses questioned the agents.

“Then they took us to Abu Dhabi for a temporary job for COVID-19 swab sample selection, but demanded a commission from our salary. He took another Rs20,000 to return our certificates. I am thinking of going back home as it is a risk to continue with a temporary job.”

She said the agency that had brought her over had changed its name to Take Off and continued to bring in more nurses.

A male nurse, who has been currently accommodated in a Dubai building with 25 others, said: “I paid Rs230,000 and came through an agency called WJ in Ernakulam in March, but didn’t get any job. Every day, they have a new excuse. I am trying for a job on my own as my visa will expire next month.”

Kiran Raveendran, a community volunteer, said the agencies took advantage of the fact that there were many temporary job openings for nurses in the UAE due to the pandemic. “Many gullible nurses were exploited because of their ignorance even after reaching here. Some of them were asked to pay Dh250 for a SIM card on arrival. They had to pay extra for taxi, food and COVID tests. If anyone got a job by chance, the agents took credit for that and sought extra commission.”

Complaint and investigation

Nurses said they were scared to report the matter because they were threatened by the agents and told that their certificates were still with them. While some found jobs on their own and some have gone back home, only some like Rajan and Saji have complained to the authorities. The duo, who later managed to move out of their accommodation arranged by the agents, have sent a complaint to Pinarayi Vijayan, the Chief Minister of Kerala. They said the state police in Kerala had begun investigation and had visited their family members back home.

The Consul General of India said the nurses, like other job applicants, must verify their job offers through the available services and must be recruited through authorised entities.

In Kerala, overseas recruitment of nurses is done through the Overseas Development and Employment Promotion Consultants and the Non-Resident Keralites Affairs Department (Norka Roots).

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K Harikrishnan Namboothiri, CEO of Norka Roots, told Gulf News from Kerala: “We are well aware of the issue and we have intervened in this regard. We have also taken up this matter with the Indian Consulate in Dubai as doing further follow-up in this regard.”

The Indian Consulate in Dubai offers a job-offer verification service through the Pravasi Bharatiya Sahayata Kendra (PBSK). Job aspirants can contact PBSK Dubai to verify the authenticity of any job offer from the UAE through its app or via email.

Meanwhile, a couple of Indian health-care establishments in the UAE have offered jobs to the affected nurses, provided they manage to submit the required documents and prove their eligibilities, said Raveendran.

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