The Indian government has sent 15 metric tons of food aid to its own citizens living as foreign workers in Saudi Arabia, following layoffs triggered by plummeting oil prices in the petroleum-based economy.
India is now reportedly weighing its options for rescuing the thousands of starving workers from abysmal conditions in Saudi Arabia.
“I assure you that no Indian worker rendered unemployed in Saudi Arabia will go without food,” India’s Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj wrote on Twitter. “I am monitoring this on hourly basis.”
Efforts to get food aid to Indians in need have been coordinated through the Indian consulate in Saudi Arabia’s port city of Jeddah.
The drop in oil prices has also prompted mass layoffs in Kuwait, but according to Swaraj, the situation of Indian nationals is not as serious there as in Saudi Arabia. Diplomats have been sent to both countries to try to resolve wage claims and negotiate exit visas for Indian citizens.
Like other migrant laborers, Indian workers in Saudi Arabia often experience conditions akin to indentured labor as employers often seize the worker’s passport in order to have full control over visas and travel.
According to official Saudi estimates, foreign workers account for up to 30 percent of the kingdom’s population. Of 9 million foreign workers, more than 2.5 million are Indians and Pakistanis, who often work low paying jobs, typically in construction, factories, and cleaning services.
Most of those workers also have limited rights, while the employer enjoys full control over hiring, salaries, vacations and contracts. Indian and other foreign workers in Saudi Arabia have no path to citizenship or to gain rights to permanent residency, even if they live and work in the country for decades.
Meanwhile, India has seen an increase in remittance income in recent years, largely from citizens working abroad in the Gulf states. India received US$69 billion in remittances in 2015, about 3.4 percent of the country’s GDP, according to the Financial Times.
Saudi Arabia is the 12th richest country in the world by per capita GDP, according to the International Monetary Fund, whereas India ranks number 122 on the list.
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