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India brings home bodies of 45 workers killed in Kuwait fire

1 min

The bodies of 45 Indians who died in a fire in a labour housing facility in Kuwait were flown to India on Friday, as bereaved relatives and experts urged New Delhi to do more to protect the lives of those who work abroad and send remittances home.

Officials carry a coffin containing the body of a victim who died during a fire that broke out in a building housing foreign workers in Kuwait, at Cochin International Airport, in Kochi, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, June 14, 2024. Reuters/Sivaram V

The bodies of 45 Indians who died in a fire in a labour housing facility in Kuwait were flown to India on Friday, as bereaved relatives and experts urged New Delhi to do more to protect the lives of those who work abroad and send remittances home.

An electrical short circuit is likely to have caused Wednesday's fire in the housing facility in Mangaf, a coastal city south of the capital Kuwait City. The Indian workers were among the 49 people who perished. A further 33 are being treated in hospitals.

Television showed bereaved families waiting at the airport to receive the bodies of their loved ones. On arrival, the coffins were placed with photographs of the deceased on separate tables in the cargo complex of the airport.

Families, friends, ministers and officials paid homage while police gave them a guard of honour.

Twenty-three of the 45 were from the southern Indian state of Kerala and its chief minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, called the accident "a national tragedy".

"This is the biggest tragedy involving migrants. We consider the migrants as our lifeline. It's a big loss to the state," he told reporters.

Millions of foreign workers make up the majority of the labour force in Kuwait and some of its Gulf neighbours, and often live in overcrowded accommodation.

On Thursday, Kuwaiti prosecutors ordered one citizen and a number of residents to be remanded in custody over accusations of manslaughter due to safety negligence at the building.

India's foreign ministry said 176 workers lived there.

The other dead included three Filipino workers, the Philippine migrant workers ministry said, adding that two more were in hospital and in a critical condition.

Local authorities did not disclose what kind of employment the workers were engaged in, although like in other Gulf states, Kuwait relies heavily upon foreign labour in industries like construction.

About 13 million Indians work abroad - more than 60% of them in Gulf nations - according to information shared with parliament by the Indian foreign ministry in 2023. Kuwait accounts for the third highest for a country with nearly 850,000.

The Indian foreign ministry says it has a "robust mechanism" to monitor working conditions abroad. But commentators said it needed to do more.

The Kuwait fire "is a reminder of the dismal working conditions of a large, and often ignored, section of the Indian diaspora", the Indian Express said in an editorial on Friday.

By Jose Devasia

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