New Delhi: India is looking at evacuating a large number of its expatriate workers facing an uncertain future in Saudi Arabia after job cuts in the construction industry, a government official said on Sunday.

More than 10,000 Indians working in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are estimated by India to be without jobs after low oil prices forced governments in the region to slash spending, squeezing the finances of local construction firms, many of which rely on state contracts. Some companies, therefore, have been struggling to pay foreign workers and have laid off thousands, leaving many stranded with no money for food or airfares home.

According to the government official, minister of state for external affairs General (retired) V.K. Singh is expected to visit Saudi Arabia to lead evacuation efforts.

The decision to evacuate workers follows the Indian embassy in Riyadh and the consulate in Jeddah arranging food packets for the laid-off workers who had been living in difficult conditions in labour camps. Almost all of them are employed in the construction industry, the official said.

“The number of Indian workers facing food crisis in Saudi Arabia is over ten thousand," external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted on Saturday, as she appealed to the large Indian community in Saudi Arabia—numbering about 3 million—to support fellow Indians in their hour of crisis.

“Large number of Indians have lost their jobs in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The employers have not paid wages, closed down their factories," she tweeted.

“While situation in Kuwait is manageable, matters are much worse in Saudi Arabia," she said in another tweet.

News reports on Saturday said that about 800 Indians employed at Saudi Oger Ltd—a construction firm headquartered in Riyadh—were laid off.

According to Saudi Arabia’s Arab News website, hundreds of foreign workers at Saudi Oger staged a public protest in Jeddah over the weekend to demand payment of seven months’ unpaid wages.

Meanwhile, the Indian consulate general in Jeddah said on Twitter that it had distributed 15,475kg of food over the past three days in association with the Indian community. It also posted pictures of people queuing up to collect food packets.

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