Bengaluru/New Delhi: Finding a way to fly back home is just the tip of the iceberg as far as the problems faced by the unemployed Indian workers stuck in the Gulf are concerned.
“We don’t have money to travel from the Delhi airport to the railway station, Sir. Then, how will we go to UP?,” asked Faeem Ahmad, stuck in a labour camp in the outskirts of Saudi Arabia’s Mecca city.
Ahmad, who hails from Uttar Pradesh, echoes a major worry of the thousands of workers living in nightmarish conditions inside labour camps there, looking upon the Indian state and central governments to lift them out of the kingdom.
After minister of state for external affairs V.K. Singh’s visit last week, Saudi Arabia agreed to give exit visas to hundreds of jobless Indian workers to go back home at its own expense.
However, many at such camps such as Ahmad and Imran Ali, who spoke to Mint by phone, worry about how they would fund their trips to their respective states after reaching the international airport at Delhi or Mumbai.
“Neither the central government nor the state governments are telling us how we could go home after reaching Delhi or Bombay airport,” said Ali, who hails from Uttarakhand.
After Singh’s visit to Ali’s camp, the embassy officials said while they will be flown to India for free, they would have to bear the costs associated with commuting home from the airport and everything else after that, he said.
“How’s this possible? Most of us have arrears to be cleared. We have been living without a salary for about eight months now. We don’t have a single riyal with us,” Ali said (in Hindi).
Sajith A. M., an editor at Saudi-based publication group Arab News, which has been the tracking the issue, says this is a very genuine worry.
Most of the stranded labourers are blue-collar workers, coming from poor families who cannot support them financially, he said.
“The return to India is actually a generous move by the Saudi government, so we cannot bargain on the destination airport,” said Sajith.
“But central government can intervene effectively to make sure they reach their home and not just to some Indian airport.”
Ideally, the Indian states should get the list of passengers from the embassy and make necessary arrangements to transport the returning workers from where they land to their respective states, he said.
For instance, Kerala is working with Norka Roots to make last mile arrangements for Malayalee returnees, said Mohanan E, who works for that agency acting as an interface between the people and the government of Kerala.
Other states need to step up.
“No one is giving a clear idea of what will happen to us. We suffered enough in Saudi. We just want to go home. We don’t want to get stuck in Delhi or Mumbai for another eight months,” said Ali, in Hindi.
In New Delhi, the ministry of external affairs on Friday said the Indian government had discussed the issue of the condition of Indian workers in Saudi Arabia during minister of state General (retd) V. K. Singh’s visit to Saudi Arabia last week.
“Following the visit of Honorable Minister of State Gen. V.K. Singh to Saudi Arabia, the Saudi authorities have themselves clarified that they are going to be very prompt in addressing all the humanitarian issues being faced by Indian workers. Instruction have already been issued by the Saudi authorities to maintain cleanliness, provide electricity, water supply and medical facilities at the camps in which the Indians are staying and the food also is now being provided by a Saudi caterer. So, that is the status as far as the humanitarian issues are concerned,” foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup told reporters.
“The second set of issues pertains to claims by Indian workers. Earlier, in accordance with Saudi law, individual complaints used to go to labour courts. Now the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Labour has set up a committee to look into the claims of the workers. A Crisis Management Group has also been set up by the Ministry of Labour to settle all issues related to Indian workers. The Ministry of Labour will now also appoint a lawyer and we will know the exact procedure regarding this in the next 2 - 3 days. So the point to note here is that those workers who have not been paid for several months, even if they choose to return to India, their claims regarding their unpaid wages will be filed, will be lodged and will be pursued by the Saudi authorities,” Swarup said.
“The third set of issues pertains to relocation. Workers who want to remain in Saudi Arabia and want to try and seek employment in other companies, considering that the original companies for which they came to work have folded or they are no longer in a position to hire them, the Saudi authorities have conveyed they are willing to renew the resident permits and labour cards to the Indian workers without any fines or fees. Workers who are willing to be transferred to other employers would be transferred without payment of fee or charge and without needing the consent of the current employer,” he said.
“The fourth set of issues pertains to repatriation. There the Saudi authorities have conveyed that in case Indian workers wishes to return to India then they themselves, meaning the Saudi authorities, will make all the necessary arrangements,” Swarup said.