Sushma to stranded workers: Return by 25 September
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj has issued an ultimatum to the 25 stranded Indian workers to return to India by 25 September. After 25 September, the workers would have to bear the cost of their lodging and travel. She requested workers to return without waiting for unpaid wages, assuring them that it would be paid once Saudi Arabia settles things with the respective companies.
In the United Arab Emirates, Indian population is the largest, with over 2.2 million Indian migrants estimated to be living in the UAE. In January 2014, India and Saudi Arabia signed an agreement to manage and organise the recruitment of domestic workers. Albeit traditionally friendly, relations between India and UAE are souring due to recent incidents about pitiful conditions of the Indian-migrant labour force.
Between January 2014 and April 2016, 500,000 Indians moved to Saudi Arabia for employment. As of 2015, approximately 3 million Indian citizens reside in Saudi Arabia.
On 30th July 2015, External Affairs Minister said that Indian workers in Saudi Arabia are facing a "food crisis". She said that over 10,000 Indian workers were facing food crisis in Saudi Arabia and it "is not 800 as being reported". Swaraj stated this in response to a man who tweeted that 800 jobless Indians had been starving since three days in Jeddah.
"Large number of Indians have lost their jobs in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The employers have not paid wages, closed down their factories," Sushma Swaraj tweeted.
After being tagged in a tweet that informed her of the condition of Indian workers in Saudi Arabia, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj swung into action. In a bid to overcome this crisis, the Indian Embassy was directed by Swaraj to serve food. Swaraj tweeted: Indian Consulate in association with Indian Community Jeddah distributed 15,475 kgs of food stuff besides eggs, spices, salt etc.
According to the External Affairs Minister, VK Singh will visit Saudi Arabia in order to sort out the matter. Also, MJ Akbar, Minister of State for External Affairs will take up the same with Saudi and Kuwait authorities.
Extreme workplace conditions of the Gulf countries (especially for low-wage workers) have made their way to headlines constantly. This form of modern slavery in the Middle East engulfs thousands of Indian-migrant workers. More often than not, false hopes of dream opportunities abroad are enough to lure individuals. Gulf countries also do not have a mechanism that safeguards the exploitation and ill-treatment of vulnerable workers.
The Saudi Government has promised to look into the allegations of over 10,000 Indians starving in their country after losing their jobs. The starving people were given food at the Indian Consulate in Jeddah. MoS for External Affairs, MJ Akbar said the Saudi Government was in the process of approving exit visas for the affected workers and was also considering their wage claims.
Minister of State for External Affairs, VK Singh arrived in Jeddah to assess the situation of the Indian migrant workers languishing in Saudi Arabia. He is expected to work out the modalities to bring back the Indian citizens who wish to return from Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the Indian embassy began collecting details of Indians who were laid off by their Saudi employers.
India welcomed a move by Riyadh to form a crisis management group to look into issues faced by the laid off Indian workers in the country. A separate panel has also been created to look into the allegations of unpaid wages. Saudi Arabia conveyed to India that the two panels would ensure that the process for these workers to return home would be expedited.
The first batch of Indians who were laid-off and languishing in squalid conditions in Saudi Arabia have returned to India. 26 Indians returned today after Saudi Arabia granted them exit visas. MoS for External Affairs, VK Singh said India appreciated the "magnanimous view" taken by Saudi Arabia and thanked the kingdom for agreeing to bear the travel costs of the workers too.