On the occasion of the 72nd Republic Day of India, Indian Ambassador Sibi George spoke with Kuwait Times on a range of topics, such as deep-rooted India-Kuwait relations, consular services at the embassy, certification issue of Indian engineers in Kuwait and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the embassy’s community outreach programs, among other issues. Excerpts from the interview:
KT: Ambassador, could you share with us your vision of India-Kuwait bilateral relations in the medium to longer term and how do you see the relationship shaping up in the future?
George: India-Kuwait bilateral relations have been built on a very sound, solid and deep-rooted foundation of exceptionally close and strong friendship ties between the peoples of our two countries. Over a period, this relationship has transformed into a vibrant and dynamic partnership. My vision for the future of this relationship is a new age, New India-New Kuwait partnership which connects the visions of our two friendly countries and transforms them into reality for mutual development and progress. As ambassador, I will strive to work on these opportunities to benefit from our comparative strengths and forge mutually beneficially partnerships across all domains of our multifaceted cooperation.
KT: What changes have you made since taking over as India’s Ambassador to Kuwait in August 2020?
George: An embassy of India anywhere in the world is expected to be a ‘home away from home’ for the Indian diaspora. In order to realize this objective, every embassy is expected to take a few basic steps – first and foremost is to ensure that it has the most effective and user-friendly consular services. Everything else flows from that. As an ambassador, it is my responsibility to ensure that the visit of every Indian to the embassy here in Kuwait for any form of service is a pleasant experience and not a nightmare.
My objective has been to make the service of the embassy user-friendly. In order to make it a pleasant experience, it is important to get regular feedback from the community on consular services and welfare services. Officers of the embassy regularly visit the consular service areas and also our outsourcing centers. We have introduced multilingual feedback forms. These regular feedbacks from the community at multiple levels helped the embassy to understand specific issues. Addressing many of these issues is a work in progress. Let me reiterate that the doors of the embassy are always open for the community.
Impact of the pandemic
KT: The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the embassy’s several community-oriented programs, particularly the open house program, although the embassy continued open house meetings virtually. How do you evaluate this experience?
George: The community faced multiple challenges during the initial months of the COVID-19 pandemic. I would like to place on record my heartfelt thanks to the many volunteers, associations and members of the Indian Community Support Group (ICSG) who worked closely with the embassy in a humanitarian mission with full commitment and dedication to ensure that no Indian will go hungry here.
COVID-19 brought in so many challenges to the embassy, as it has done to most public offices in Kuwait and across the world. We needed to follow all precautions, guidelines and protocols related to COVID-19. In adherence to these guidelines, we converted the physical open house into a digital open house. Today, we have a very active community welfare section at the embassy. I am happy to note that we are getting full support from all concerned authorities both in Kuwait and India.
KT: Indian engineers in Kuwait have faced issues related to their certification. How are you addressing this problem?
George: The engineers’ certification issue is one of the main issues that I have faced during my last few months here. As part of the process to address this issue, we undertook a large-scale registration and verification exercise and have created a complete database through a multipronged approach.
We have been engaging the concerned authorities in Kuwait at multiple levels. At the same time, we are trying to address the root cause of the issue in close coordination with the concerned authorities in India. We have established a regular weekly dialogue mechanism with the Kuwaiti Society of Engineers (KSE).
An embassy team meets the leadership of KSE and discusses individual cases that are brought to the attention of the embassy. We are finding solutions to several individual cases. This again is a work in progress. I am optimistic that we will be able to find a lasting solution to the certification issue soon.
KT: The Kuwait government has announced a partial amnesty allowing undocumented expats to leave the country or regularize their status. How has been the general response from Indians in Kuwait?
George: The embassy welcomes every step that the Kuwaiti authorities take for undocumented expats to leave the country or regularize their status. I am happy that each of the Kuwaiti leaders and citizens that I met during the last few months spoke very highly of the hardworking, peace-loving and law-abiding qualities of our community. The ongoing regularization drive was a welcome step. I thank the leadership of the government of Kuwait for this gesture. The embassy worked very closely with the community and the Kuwaiti authorities to help undocumented laborers avail the facilities offered. We issued travel documents to every Indian who approached us.
We erected a special tent and opened special counters at the embassy to facilitate the speedy issuance of travel documents. We would like to have every Indian in Kuwait to be working legally here. Our endeavor is for everyone to correct their legal status. This again is a work in progress. We have also extended assistance from the ICWF (Indian Community Welfare Fund) for the benefit of the community. We have provided over seven hundred air tickets in the last few months.
KT: The Indian embassy in Kuwait plans to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Kuwait and India. Can you briefly outline these plans?
George: The years 2021-2022 mark the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between India and Kuwait. Over the last 60 years, our relationship with Kuwait has grown into a vibrant, mutually beneficial partnership.
Our relationship with Kuwait is a partnership not only between governments and officials; it is a partnership involving multiple stakeholders-universities, schools, students, business establishments, small and medium enterprises, industry and commercial chambers, industry groups, science and technology establishments, academicians, scholars, artists, movie lovers, drama lovers, innovation and research organizations, hospitality firms, museums, libraries and above all our vibrant people-to-people contacts.
We will involve each of these stakeholders in our 60th anniversary celebrations. We will coordinate these celebrations also through our four outreach platforms of ICN (Indian Cultural Network), IPN (Indian Professionals Network), IBN (Indian Business Network) and ISN (Indian Sports Network).0