CHENNAI: As the war between Saudi Arabia and Yemen’s Houthi rebels intensifies, fear and anxiety seems to have gripped thousands of Tamil workers in the Saudi border town of Najran.
With sounds of shelling becoming an everyday affair, the Tamil workers say lack of any reassurance from the Indian Embassy officials has left them bewildered.
“Over the last week we have been hearing continuous bomb explosions very close to where we work. There are hearsay accounts about groups of labourers from different nations getting killed in the bombings. We want to return home or at least go to interior parts of this country. But agents who got us employment here are refusing to allow us to leave claiming there is nothing to worry,” a labourer hailing from Kanyakumari district who is working as a construction worker in Najran told Express over phone on Wednesday.
“We heard that in one instance about eight women were killed in the bombing. In another instance, a worker from Pakistan was killed. But our employers here are trying to brush it aside and not allowing us to move out. Most of the victims are migrant workers like us,” he says in a worried voice. The area is mostly inhibited by migrant labourers from countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
About 30,000 workers from Tamil Nadu, mostly from the districts of Kanyakumari and Villupuram, are said to be working as semi-skilled labourers in and around Najran. What has created anxiety is that cellphones of several Tamil workers have been “switched off” for the last few days.
“Ever since the attacks started, we have been trying to keep in touch with other Tamil workers. But some of our friends’ phones are switched off for the last few days. When we tried to check with hospitals, we were blocked by authorities here. We are struck in the war-torn area with no help or information,” says another Tamil worker.
In the armed conflict between the Yemen-based Houthi rebels and Saudi-led coalition, so far casualties have been mostly on the Yemeni side. The Indian government had in April evacuated thousands of Indians working in Yemen. But recently there are international media reports on the Houthi rebels too managing to shell the Saudi border villages near Najran, killing and injuring dozens of Saudi nationals and migrant workers.
The Indian Embassy in Riyadh has not issued any official advisory to Indians living in Saudi Arabia. Its website just mentions the helpline numbers 8002471234 and +966 11 4884697/4881982.