As the first batch of 26 retrenched Indian workers were on their way back home from Jeddah on Thursday, India appreciated Saudi Arabia’s prompt action to provide relief to distressed Indian workers in the Gulf kingdom.
“We appreciate the magnanimous view taken by the Saudi Arabian government of granting exit visas expeditiously and agreeing to bear the expenses for the travel of the workers,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said in his weekly media briefing in New Delhi.
“The swift action to tackle a localised problem specific only to some companies of Saudi Arabia signifies the deep and abiding relationship that our two countries share,” he said.
Following reports of retrenchment of the workers by the Saudi Oger company, Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh visited Saudi Arabia last week.
According to Swarup, Singh “had very productive meetings” with the Saudi Minister for Labour and Social Development Mufrel Al Haqbani and other senior dignitaries.
“As a result of these meetings, the process of lodging claims and making arrangements for those Indian workers wishing to come back to India or relocate to another company has already started,” the spokesperson said.
The crisis also saw Saudi King Salman issuing a series of directives to address their problems, and earmarking 100 million Saudi Riyals ($26 million) to address the concerns of the workers and end their suffering.
King Salman also directed the Saudi passport department to facilitate exit visas and other procedures for the distressed workers.
Swarup said in his media briefing that the first batch of 26 Indian workers left Jeddah for New Delhi on Thursday by a Saudi Arabian Airlines flight.
“Once they arrive, respective state governments will be making arrangements for their travel to their home towns,” he added.
The workers, who were brought to the airport in a bus by the Indian consulate in Jeddah, were seen off by Consul General Noor Rahman Sheikh, and senior officials Anand Kumar and M. Fahmi.
Many of the workers, including Hindus, at the airport on Thursday morning were seen carrying the holy waters of Zamzam in bottles for friends and relatives back home. The Saudi Labour Ministry had announced free passage for workers who were willing to return home.
Though Indian consulate officials have assured the workers that they will pursue financial claims on their behalf, most appeared confused and apprehensive about what lay ahead — including the onward journey to their states from New Delhi.
“It is saddening to leave Saudi Arabia as I made some money earlier; but now the chances are grim,” said Ram Nivas, a plumber from Churu district in Rajasthan.
“Due to non-payment of wages, there was no meaning in continuing the job,” said Nasir Raza of Gaya district in Bihar, who had returned to Saudi Arabia only recently after a vacation, is now leaving for good.
“I have full faith in both the governments of Saudi Arabia and India and I have authorised them to collect my pending arrears and send them to me in India,” said Musharaf Ali, a driver hailing from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh who has been here for eight years.
“I had heart surgery and the huge expenses were borne by the now ill-fated company. I had enjoyed working there. Though there was the option to seek new employment, I prefer to return home,” said Shakir Ahmed, a resident of Patna in Bihar.
“When I arrived three years ago I felt so happy to be part of such a large company, but the situation worsened and it is sad to return home. I love the country,” said V. Ram Prasad of Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh.
The lists of workers who are being repatriated at their request are being prepared by Indian diplomats in coordination with Saudi Labour Ministry officials. Many Indian workers are opting to return home, according to sources.