Indian missions in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have reason to pat themselves on the back for the humanitarian effort they made in providing food to starving compatriots. It all began with a message to External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj that 800 Indians who were laid off have been starving. She immediately made an appeal to the missions and to the 30 lakh Indians in Saudi Arabia to rise to the occasion and meet their food needs. It transpired that 10,000 -- not 800 -- Indians were in misery. Cooked food was immediately provided to them through public-private participation.
What created the situation was the sudden closing down of some companies in the real estate sector leaving the workers in dire straits. One such company in Jeddah employed more than 4,000 Indians. They had not been paid for months and they were continuing in the hope that one day their arrears would be paid. Instead, the owners of the firms bolted from there. Since they live in labour camps, the workers seldom keep money with them as they have families back in India who survive on their remittances. In short, most of them are penniless and that is why they found themselves facing starvation. The Foreign Minister has sent her deputy General VK Singh to bring the Indians back. It calls for an airlift of the kind India organised in the wake of the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait. The Saudi authorities should also be persuaded to force the employers to pay the workers.
True, business in West Asia is on the downslide because of the crash in oil prices. However, that is no excuse to keep Indian workers in inhuman conditions. Saudi Arabia has become notorious for its harsh treatment of Indian workers. It is time the Kingdom takes effective measures to ensure the safety of Indians. Back home, the Centre and States should redouble efforts to create awareness among the people not to go to the Gulf without valid visa and without first checking the background of the companies.