By Chaitanya Mallapur
As thousands of laid-off Indian workers in Saudi Arabia were said to be without food, 87 per cent of complaints received from Indian workers at Indian missions across nine countries were from six Gulf countries, with nearly half of those from Qatar and Saudi Arabia, according to government data.
Indian missions across nine countries received 55,119 complaints of ill-treatment and “exploitation” of Indian workers over the last three years, according to data tabled in the Lok Sabha by the Ministry of External Affairs.
Of these, the Indian mission in Qatar received 13,624 complaints, followed by missions in Saudi Arabia (11,195), Kuwait (11,103) and Malaysia (6,346).
On July 30, 2016, Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj acknowledged the hunger facing laid-off Indian workers in Saudi Arabia.
“The number of Indian workers facing food crisis in Saudi Arabia is over Ten Thousand. It is not 800 as is being reported,” she tweeted.
Sushma Swaraj promised, through a series of tweets, “that no Indian worker rendered unemployed in Saudi Arabia will go without food”.
The complaints received from Indian workers include “non-payment/delayed payment or underpayment of salaries, long working hours, inadequate living conditions, physical harassment, non-renewal of visa and labour card on time, refusal to pay for medical treatment, denial of leave and air-ticket to home town on completion of contract period, forcible custody of passport and visa and refusal of leave or exit/re-entry permits”, the ministry said in its reply to parliament.
No specific complaint of sexual abuse was reported, the ministry added.
Twenty-four per cent of Indians jailed aboard in Saudi prisons
Saudi Arabia has more Indians in prison than any other country: 1,697 of 7,213, according to another Lok Sabha reply.
Saudi Arabia is followed by United Arab Emirates (1,143). The six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries — Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain — account for half of all Indians jailed abroad and 87 per cent of mis-treatment complaints received from Indian workers.
The Indian mission in Saudi Arabia registered 1,676 complaints during the first half of 2016.
Poor working conditions put an Indian living in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait at 10 times the risk of death compared to an Indian living in the US, IndiaSpend reported in August 2015.
Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman and Kuwait report between 65 and 78 deaths per 100,000 Indian workers.
An average of 69 Indians die every year in the six Gulf countries. The corresponding figure for the rest of the world is 26.5, almost 60 per cent lower.
(In arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform, with whom Chaitanya Mallapur is an analyst.)