India to bring back 10,000 `starving' construction workers from Saudi

India's minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj today said the government is sending a minister to Saudi Arabia to try to bring back more than 10,000 Indian workers laid off from their jobs and are now facing starvation.

A slowdown in construction activity in Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries following the fall in global crude oil prices has left thousands of construction workers, mostly Indians, jobless and starving.

With the Saudi government cutting spending since last year, local construction firms relying on state contracts have been starving for finances. Unable to pay workers, some companies have laid off thousands of foreign workers, leaving many with no money for food or money to buy a return air ticket.

Swaraj also appealed to the over 3 million Indians living in Saudi Arabia for help.

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

"The number of Indian workers facing food crisis in Saudi Arabia is over ten thousand," Swaraj said in a tweet. "It is not 800 as is being reported," she said.

"We have asked the Indian Embassy in Saudi Arabia to serve you food in Jeddah," Swaraj said. "My colleague @Gen_VKSingh is reaching Saudi Arabia to sort out all such matters," she stated.

Minister of state for external affairs MJ Akbar would be taking up the issue with the Saudi and Kuwaiti authorities, she said.

"I assure you that no Indian worker rendered unemployed in Saudi Arabia will go without food," Swaraj said in another tweet.

The plight of the workers came to the government's notice following reports that Indian workers in a large Saudi Arabian construction company in Jeddah were not paid their salaries for the last seven months pushing the workers to near starvation.

These workers were surviving on food aid provided by the Indian consulate in Jeddah, which distributed food among 2,450 such workers on Saturday.

It transpired that the employer, Saudi Oger company, has not been paying salaries to these workers for many months.

According to an Indian community worker involved in the food distribution work, of the 50,000 employees of the company, 4,000 are Indians.

"For the last seven months these Indian workers [employed by Saudi Oger] were not getting their salaries," IANS quoted Indian Consul General in Jeddah Mohammed Noor Rahman Sheikh as saying over phone.

"We provided food to 2,450 Indian workers in five camps on Saturday," he said. "We have provided 15,475 kg of foodstuff besides cooking ingredients and 1,850 readymade food packets to these workers."

Sheikh said that not only has Saudi Oger not been paying the salaries for the last seven months, it has also stopped providing food to these workers.