'Food crisis' for thousands of Indians in Saudi Arabia

NEW DELHI/DUBAI • India wants to send a Cabinet minister to Saudi Arabia to try to bring back thousands of Indian workers who are facing a "food crisis" because they cannot afford meals after being laid off.

India's Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj last Saturday said more than 10,000 Indians in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait were facing a "food crisis" because of economic hardships, while appealing to an estimated three million Indians living in Saudi Arabia for help. "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.

One of India's two junior foreign ministers, Mr V.K. Singh, will travel to Saudi Arabia. Ms Swaraj said the other junior foreign minister, Mr M. J. Akbar, would take up the issue with the authorities in the two Middle Eastern countries, saying the government was monitoring the situation on an hourly basis. "While situation in Kuwait is manageable, matters are much worse in Saudi Arabia," she said in a tweet.

Low oil prices have forced the Saudi government to slash spending since last year, putting heavy pressure on the finances of local construction firms that rely on state contracts. As a result, some have been struggling to pay foreign workers and have laid off tens of thousands, leaving many with no money for food, let alone for tickets home.

Separately, the Consulate-General of India in Jeddah said on its official Twitter feed on Saturday that it had distributed 15,475kg of food over the past three days in association with the Indian community.

The hardships faced by Indian migrants come amid rising protests about working conditions in Saudi Arabia. Hundreds of foreign workers at construction firm Saudi Oger staged a public protest in Jeddah over the weekend to demand seven months of unpaid wages, Saudi Arabia's Arab News reported.

Saudi Oger did not respond to a call and an e-mail seeking comment. The Saudi government says it will probe any complaints of companies not paying wages and if necessary, compel them to do so with fines and other penalties.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2016, with the headline ''Food crisis' for thousands of Indians in Saudi Arabia'. Print Edition | Subscribe