When Siby George went to Riyadh as India’s deputy chief of mission at the Indian embassy over a year ago, the 23-lakh-strong Indian community was stressed because of the new laws including Nitaqat. But Siby is a happy man now. Not just because he received the S K Singh Award for excellence in Indian Foreign Service on Thursday, but also that the Indian community has grown to 28 lakh now and the status of most has been made legal. George was the man in-charge of the process to regularise the status of the massive Indian community in Saudi Arabia.
The S K Singh Award, presented by vice-president Hamid Ansari, has a jury comprising Ansari, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, Foreign Secretary Sujatha Singh, Congress V-P Rahul Gandhi and Manju Singh, wife of the late S K Singh who was foreign secretary and governor of Arunachal Pradesh and Rajasthan.
George — of the 1993-batch of the Indian Foreign Service — shares the secret behind the success with The Indian Express: “It was very simple. We opened up the Indian embassy. We put in place volunteers and helplines in every regional language, so that the Indian community had access to the Indian mission.”
“When I reached Riyadh at the end of 2012, I found the Indian community in a very tense situation because of the Saudi laws. It was a challenge, but thanks to our ambassador Hamid Ali Rao, we converted the challenge into an opportunity,” the 46-year-old said.
Originally from Kerala, he said correcting the status of 14 lakh Indians was an ‘uphill’ task, which was done in the 7-month grace period in 2013. “Saudi Arabia is almost two-third of India’s size. And has 13 provinces. So, we put in place a partnership with 600 Indian volunteers. They helped us to create awareness that not correcting their status would lead to expulsion from the country.”
George said another advantage of the streamlining process led to a situation where Indians, who did not have papers and could not leave the country, were able to exit Saudi.
“The exercise brought the Indian community closer… I remember seeing Malayali volunteers explaining the rules of regularising their status to Bengali workers in their broken Hindi,” he said.