A few months ago, the story of Abdul Sattar rocked India. An Indian worker working in Saudi Arabia, Sattar’s desperate plea for help from Indian authorities to rescue him from his employer who was ill-treating him moved many.
Following that video, which went viral on social media, Sattar was jailed. The government has since been trying hard for his release. But there are others like Sattar trapped in an inhuman world in the Gulf countries away from their loved ones and devoid of any help. And at least 1000 of them are in serious need of government intervention.
Talking to TY News over phone, rights activist Kundan Srivastava, who first brought to light Sattar’s plight, now draws attention to the anguish of the group of 1000 Indian workers trapped in the Saudi city of Al Khobar. He also throws light on the pathetic working conditions of the Indian workers in Gulf countries.
The desperation of the trapped workers is compounded by the fact that they have been forced to live like refugees by their employer, Saad Group.
Srivastava said that Saad Group has not paid the workers their wages for the last 6-8 months.
In two videos shared on his Facebook page, the workers can be seen crying while requesting Srivastava to help them return to India.
Narrating their plight in one of the videos, they claimed that they are forced to live in a camp because their employer has not paid their wages.
They said that they are surviving on food and bare necessities given to them by other companies.
Requesting for evacuation from the country, the workers highlight that officials from the labour court and other departments do come to see them but stop short of providing help.
“There was a patient with us. We shifted him to a hospital after another company forwarded medical help to us,” said one of the men in the video. The man points out that even basic medical facility is not being provided to them.
Srivastava says that the company hired these workers from India to work in semi-skilled or low-skilled jobs but like many companies in Saudi Arabia, Saad stopped paying wages.
According to rules, a migrant worker is allowed to work for two years in the country. They can then leave for their homelands. But to do so, they need an exit visa for which they must first obtain the signature of their employer. It is here that the problem begins.
Srivastava informs that there is nothing in the Constitution of Saudi Arabia that would allow employers keep passport or other documents of the workers in their possession. Yet they do so.
Employers refuse to let go of the worker. The problem is the country’s regressive laws, which technically deprive migrants of human rights. Employers might accuse a worker of some crime such as theft which the latter may not have even committed. That accusation alone would deprive the worker of his rights and leave him stranded in the country, at times without help.
For over 70 lakh Indians working in any of the six Gulf countries – Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait, UAE and Bahrain – West Asia is the land which can help them secure their future. At least this is what they dream of when they board a flight to the GCC.
They leave their families behind and travel to the distant lands to work as semi-skilled and low-skilled workers. If men toil hard in the construction sector, women work as domestic help.
In reality, however, they live like slaves.
One prime example of the ill-treatment of migrant workers in Gulf countries was seen in October 2015 when an Indian worker’s hand was chopped off by her employer. The employer was never punished, again due to Saudi laws.
All of this is not just against Indians.
Low-wage migrants from any country faces human rights abuses in the Gulf countries. Even the Human Rights Watch acknowledges that the situation is abysmal and that trafficking is sometimes part of the abuse.
Pathetic working conditions apart, many of them are forced to do work they did not sign up for and often for unusually long durations. Labour laws in Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been particularly criticized by the international community.
The families of the 1000 workers living in the camp in Al Khobar held a demonstration in Jantar Mantar early this month requesting the government to intervene. They are hopeful that the government will help these Indians in the same way it is helping rescue Indians trapped in other countries.
Srivastava says that government help is essential to get so many people out of the country.