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Bengaluru/New Delhi: “I just want to go home," Rajeshwar Kumar, 30, said over phone from a labour camp in Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah city.

Kumar is among the thousands of workers living in dire straits inside a labour camp in Jeddah, looking upon minister of state for external affairs V.K. Singh’s visit to the Red Sea port city on Wednesday as a ray of hope to lift them out of the kingdom.

Also Read: V.K. Singh to visit Saudi Arabia to assess job cut crisis

The lives of close to three million people such as Kumar, who headed for the Persian Gulf to escape a life of poverty from Bihar, has turned nightmarish after the Middle East is roiled by the oil crisis.

The fall in crude oil prices led to a slash on spending for the Saudi government since last year, and consequently local construction firms which rely on state contracts started shutting down.

Take the case of Saudi Oger Ltd, a company, which employed 58,000 workers, has stopped functioning completely, terminating 27,000 workers, said Sajith A. M., an editor at Saudi-based publication group Arab News. The blue-collar workers, (like Kumar, an electrician at Saudi Oger), he said, were the hardest to get hit.

Mint could not immediately get a comment from the company.

On Wednesday evening, minister Singh put out a statement saying the claims regarding unpaid salaries of Indian workers stranded in Saudi Arabia will be “honoured" by the Saudi government.

The minister said he had “a very good meeting" with the officials at Saudi Arabia’s labour department earlier in the day, where he discussed issues related to Indian workers.

The Saudi government “is providing free passage to all those who want to go back to India". As well as, they have also agreed Indian employees “to transfer to any other company within Saudi Arabia", said the statement.

The Indian embassy will prepare suitable lists for filing claims and for people to go back, the statement said.

Unpaid for about eight months, the workers protested last week on streets and even set ablaze company vans in the hope that somebody would take notice of their plight, Arab News reported last week.

They surely caught the eyes of some countries—like the Philippines, which banned sending workers to certain companies in Saudi and declared $10.6 million ( 707.44 crore) relief fund to assist the stranded workers last month.

Some others, like India, is gradually waking up to the reality of its workers abroad. The Indian embassy in Riyadh started taking the headcount of stranded workers on Monday.

Kumar said the Indian government needs to act fast. He said he is surrounded by around 900 people, almost all of them Indians, living in squalid, overcrowded eight-member-in-a-room camps.

In fact, he said, this counting should have been done much earlier, now is the time for action: “We have been living without a salary for the last eight months. Our passports are still with the company. We don’t have a single riyal to buy flight tickets. For some of us, the iqama [resident permit] validity has expired. Please help us, immediately."

Kumar’s neighbour in one of these “chainless prisons", Raja Alakarswami, a 41-year old from Madurai, has other immediate concerns.

The Saudi government recently cut services from various departments to the company, said Alakaraswami, which resulted in shutting down of the labour camp’s canteens too.

“We were starving almost half of last week," he said, while the 34-year old Ravidar Yadav of Uttar Pradesh and the 27-year old Birendra Kumar of Bihar could be heard making agreeing sounds in the speaker phone’s background.

All three are of them are carpenters, who migrated to the Persian Gulf in search of monthly wages of around 25,000 to 40,000, something that an entry-level IT employee would make in Bengaluru.

The food crisis Alakarswami was referring to was the same that external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj was referring to in her passionate plea in Parliament on Monday, where she said that about 10,000 Indians stranded in Saudi Arabia will not go hungry.

“They were eating stale bread soaked in water until last week. They actually mobbed us when we walked in with food packets," said a member of an expat welfare organisation, which was involved handing out the food packets to the stranded labourers in the camp last Friday.

“I don’t know how they manage to live there. The whole place was stinking. I guess the trucks that are supposed to pump out waste water into the tanks, as it usually happens in Saudi, are not visiting such labour camps," said the person on condition of anonymity.

Alakarswami said the food situation has improved this week, after the expat organisations started distributing food packets. However, neither they know when the next packets will come, nor they are sure about what they have right now will last for more than two three days.

In between this humanitarian crisis, Alakkarswami said he has found a consoling hand in a Pakistani man staying next door.

“He has a net connect, using which all of us call home. Thanks to him, at least I am in touch with my parents, wife and two kids back home," he said.

One person, who identified himself as Moudeen from Rajasthan, just called from the labour camp.

He said some officials from the government approached them a while ago, asking to sign some papers. An Air India flight will be arranged for the return of the workers on 10 August who are willing to sign, the officials said, according to him.

The workers are charged up against this, the person said, because almost all of them have arrears to be cleared by the construction company and the Indian government is not at all talking about that.

“They are saying we will not get any money from the company. So after years of work, are we supposed to return empty handed? We can’t," he said.

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