KANNIYAKUMARI, TAMIL NADU – This investigation unravels abuse and exploitation of lower-income migrant fishers from climate-affected coastal communities of India on UK-flagged fishing vessels under the country’s infamous transit visa system.

In May 2023, authorities in the UK arrested three Indian seafarers for breaching the 12 nautical mile limit that restricts transit visa holders from fishing within 22 kilometres of the English waters.

They were among the first Indians to be penalized under law, detained for over a month, and deported back to India, where they remain uncertain about their future.

The arrest-deportation event came two years after the UK and India forged a migration and mobility partnership that focuses on prevention of immigration abuse, enabling legal movement of the workforce, and return of irregular migrants between the two countries.

All three arrested fishermen are from small coastal villages that dot the 4670-mile Indian coastline, a major flashpoint of disasters like cyclones and tsunamis.

Like dozens of others, they migrated to the UK in search of better livelihood after witnessing the devastating impact of climate change on their communities in the form of frequent cyclones and loss of shores. In the UK, they end up being exploited and abused (in some cases arrested and deported) on boats that operate in extreme conditions and beyond any legal oversight.

The Indian Ocean, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, has been witnessing the world’s fastest rate of rising sea surface temperature, making the long shoreline vulnerable to frequent tropical catastrophes. To this reality, India’s fishing communities face the most extreme vulnerability. For many, thus, migration becomes a necessity.

The May incident is not an isolated case; several Ghanaian fishermen have been sent home from Northern Ireland because of their captains’ decisions to breach the 12 nm limit. This is part of a wider crackdown on migrant workers that, in the fishing industry, targets those with the least power.

Team members

Aliya Bashir

Aliya Bashir is an independent journalist covering India and Indian-administered Kashmir.

Laura Cole

Laura Cole is a freelance journalist covering technology, the environment, resources and mining.

Laura Cole

Saqib Mohammad

Saqib Mohammad is an interdisciplinary visual artist from Kashmir, currently based in New Delhi.

Saqib Mohammad

Imran Muzaffar

Imran Muzaffar is freelance journalist and academic based in Delhi, India.

Imran Muzaffar

Christine Ro

Christine Ro is a journalist based in London.


Sylke Gruhnwald

Sylke Gruhnwald is editor-in-chief of the Swiss magazine Republik.

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