Concerned about the 10,000 Indians stranded in Saudi Arabia, jobless and without food, the Narendra Modi government in New Delhi prepares an evacuation plan and sets up some relief camps for those stuck in the West Asian country.

Upon his arrival in Jeddah on Wednesday to assess the ground situation, Indian Minister of State (for External Affairs) Vijay Kumar Singh said that nearly 10,000 Indians are battling hunger in Saudi Arabia, as employers have refused them wages for up to seven months. Many of the stranded Indians have been laid off and do not have enough money to return to India.

After considering the situation, New Delhi has asked expatriate Indians in Saudi Arabia to provide the stranded Indians with food. The government has also ordered the Indian Embassy in Riyadh to run at least five food camps. Meanwhile, the visiting Indian minister held talks with the concerned Saudi authorities for payment of the pending salaries. He also requested the Saudi government to give the stranded Indians exit visas as their employers had left the country. The Indian Consulate in Jeddah has so far collected details of 2,500 Indians working in various labour camps in Saudi Arabia.

A July 29 SOS tweet by an Indian, tagging External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, prompted the Modi government to prepare a plan for rescuing those people. The tweet was about Indians stuck in Jeddah and photos showed that Indian workers of ‘Saudi Oger’ construction firm queuing up for food. On August 1, Swaraj told the Indian Parliament: “Not one worker of ours will go hungry. This is my assurance to the country through Parliament. We will bring all of them back to India.”

Most Indians do blue collar jobs, such as construction labour, in Saudi Arabia and other West Asian countries. Usually, they do outdoor works in extreme heat and live in deplorable conditions for meagre pay. Occasionally, they face physical abuse and (sometimes) their passports are forcibly retained. In 2015, nearly 5,900 Indians, including 2,691 in Saudi Arabia, 1,540 in the UAE and 500 in Qatar, died in Gulf nations.

Indians, working in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Iraq and the UAE, send USD 30 billion to their country every year. The scenario changed when Saudi Arabia reduced government spending in 2015 (post economic crisis) as crude prices fell. As a result, local construction firms, which mostly rely on Indian workers, came under pressure. The Kingdom also introduced ‘Nitaqat’ law, making hiring of foreign labourers tougher. The law forced Saudi firms to give jobs to locals. The UAE and Qatar, too, plan to bring a similar law. After considering recent developments in Gulf nations, India has advised its nationals not to travel to West Asia for searching jobs.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]