India was providing emergency food rations to an estimated 10,000 of its workers in Saudi Arabia who faced severe food shortages after losing their jobs, officials said Sunday.
India’s consulate in the city of Jeddah said its officials worked overnight to distribute food to the laid-off Indians who live in five worker complexes or camps in and around the city.
More than 16,000 kilograms of food and other items including eggs, spices and salt were distributed.
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj intervened in the humanitarian crisis on Saturday evening after a distressed man at a camp in Jeddah sent a direct appeal for help.
She said a total of 10,000 Indian workers were facing a food crisis in Saudi Arabia and ordered Indian missions to provide immediate help.
Swaraj said a large number of Indians had lost their jobs in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and that their employers had not paid wages or closed down their factories.
As a result, Indians were facing extreme hardships, Swaraj said adding that while the situation in Kuwait is “manageable,” matters are much “worse” in Saudi Arabia.
She asked junior foreign ministers VK Singh and MJ Akbar to travel to the region to take up the matter with local authorities.
She also appealed to the roughly 3 million Indians in the nation to help their “fellow brothers and sisters.”
Domestic media outlets who interviewed community workers in Saudi Arabia, said most of the workers had been laid off by Saudi Oger, a leading Saudi construction company.
The firm had not paid salaries for the last seven months, and had also stopped providing food to the workers.
One of the community workers told the IANS news agency that there had been a slowdown in the Saudi construction industry because of the fall in global crude oil prices. “Not only Saudi Arabia, it has been happening in all Gulf countries,” he said.
Officials told the Times of India newspaper that the government was also planning to bring back the out-of-work Indians in the coming weeks.
Saudi Arabia, like other oil-rich Gulf countries, depends heavily on Asian migrant workers.
Indians form the bulk of the Asian workers in the region. Some 70 per cent of the 3 million expatriate Indians in Saudi Arabia and 800,000 of them in Kuwait are blue-collar workers, mainly employed in the construction, oil and infrastructure sector.
In reports over past years, right groups like Amnesty International have said that workers in the countries frequently suffer difficulties including non-payment of wages, harsh and dangerous working conditions and appalling standards of accommodation.
By Siddhartha Kumar, original article