The government is preparing to evacuate a large number of Indian workers facing an uncertain future in Saudi Arabia following widespread layoffs. A senior official source told The Hindu, New Delhi is “arranging exit visas for jobless workers”, and Minister of State for External Affairs Gen (Retired) V.K. Singh would travel to Saudi Arabia to “bring back” the Indians in the next few days.
The official said the modalities and magnitude of the evacuation are being worked out. Though the exact number to be brought back is not clear now, the Consulate General of India in Jeddah has announced that as a first step toward “crisis management”, details of 2,500 Indians have been collected by groups of Indian officials working in various labour camps. As information spread that an evacuation would be under way, more Indians are coming forward to return home. It is possible that if the numbers swell New Delhi might consider the option of sending in a ship.
Talks to get salary dues
Apart from providing food and relief to the hundreds in various labour camps, Indian officials are also in talks with the Saudi authorities to see that the pending salaries are paid to the laid off before they are brought back.
To this end, Ambassador of India Ahmad Javed and Deputy Minister of Interior of Saudi Arabia Ahmed Al-Salem held a meeting on Sunday afternoon.
The evacuation decision comes after the Embassy of India in Riyadh and the Consulate in Jeddah began arranging food through community support for the workers who had been living in inhuman conditions in labour camps after losing jobs.
About 30 lakh Indians live and work in Saudi Arabia, a substantial amount of them being blue-collar workers.
Explaining the scale of the crisis, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj late on Saturday tweeted that “the number of Indian workers facing food crisis in Saudi Arabia is over ten thousand.”
She appealed to the large Indian community in Saudi Arabia to extend support to fellow citizens in the hour of crisis. It is unclear how long the crisis has been brewing.
An official at the Embassy of India in Riyadh told The Hindu that officials have fanned out to various parts of Saudi Arabia to find Indian workers facing extreme hardship like lack of food. So far relief efforts have focused on five major workers’ camps — in Shumaisi, Sisten/Macrona, Sojex, Highway, Taif. The official said more camps could be added to the list.
The Hindu had reported on Saturday that 800 Indians at Saudi Oger Ltd. were laid off as part of major cutbacks by the Lebanese-owned company that used to be among West Asia’s most successful construction firms, employing more than 50,000 in the Kingdom alone.
Falling oil prices have hit the construction sector in the Gulf region with expat workers in Saudi Arabia being among the most affected. The evacuation from Saudi Arabia will take place within a month of India evacuating its nationals from South Sudan.
In 2015, Gen. Singh led a similar operation from war-hit Yemen.