Hundreds of Indian workers who had gone to UAE, Saudi Arabia in search for temporary work are struggling to return to their native states. Severely hit by a lack of jobs and money, they are appealing to the state and the central government to arrange special flights to take them back home.
K Ezhilvendan (35), who hails from Villupuram in Tamil Nadu, went to Saudi Arabia to work in one of the leading oil refinery companies for two months on a contract basis. His contract period was over on March 20. Like him, several other Indian workers are stranded in Saudi Arabia due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic-induced lockdown.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Ezhilvendan says more than 400 Tamilians are stranded in different areas of Saudi Arabia such as Jeddah, Dammam, and Riyadh. The industries are situated in Rabigh city near Jeddah and Jubail, which is near Dammam. There are scores of Indians around these industrial areas.
“We came to work for an oil plant shutdown job; there are 46 members in my company from India. The company in their contract itself would have mentioned that they would pay us based on the time-sheet only. So for the past two months, they haven’t given us any salary. All our earnings have been spent on surviving here. Our visas have also expired; we are not sure whether there will be any penalty for overstaying. Since April 15, one of the leading company asked its workers to take care of the room rent and food by themselves. Without any income, and with complete lockdown how can they pay the rent?” he asked.
Dear sir, my native is Villupuram
Here in Saudi more than 500 people suffering without food and visa expired.we came for short term job more than 60 days we are stucked in saudi.our tamilnadu govt not taking any necessary arrangements to bring back us to native. pic.twitter.com/jDpcS8y8Xd
— email@example.com (@kezhilvendanndt) May 14, 2020
Some of the stranded Indians are staying in apartments while some of them are staying in quarantine camps.
On May 13, Tamil Nadu MP S Gnanathiraviyam wrote a letter to External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar regarding the plight of 140 Indian workers, including 110 from his Tirunelveli constituency, who are stranded in Saudi Arabia. “The Saudi Government is ready to send them their native states and they are seeking from the Indian Government and Indian Embassy. The above said 140 persons are close to Jeddah International airport. Out of the 140 persons, 110 belong to Radhapuram Taluk within my constituency and 24 of them are from UP and 6 of them are from Kerala. They are unable to do anything and their position is very critical. Their families in my constituency are continuously weeping,” he wrote.
He further added the stranded workers can be sent to Madurai or Thiruvananthapuram airport which is close to their native place.
As of May 15, the kingdom has reported 49,716 Covid_19 positive cases. Right now, the curfew is imposed in Saudi Arabia. Commercial and other business entities and some government offices are been allowed to operate between 9 am local time and 5 pm. However, From May 23 to 27, following EID al-Fitr, there will be a blanket lockdown across the kingdom. This has put the stranded Indian workers in a spot of bother as it will further delay their travel to India.
திருநெல்வேலி மாவட்டத்தைச் சார்ந்த சுமார் 110 பேர் மற்றும் அயல் மாநிலத்தை சேர்ந்த 30 பேர் சவுதி அரேபியாவிலிருந்து தாயகம் திரும்புவதற்கு என்னிடம் கோரிக்கை விடுத்தனர்.உடனடியாக நான் வெளியுறவுத்துறை அமைச்சரை தொடர்பு கொண்டு அவர்களை உடனடியாக மீட்க நடவடிக்கை எடுக்கும்படி கேட்டுக்கொண்டேன் pic.twitter.com/7RZgKHskbf
— Gnanathiraviam S MP (சா.ஞானதிரவியம்) (@GnanathiraviamS) May 13, 2020
According to a press release by the Indian Embassy of Riyadh on May 13, the Vande Bharat Mission of repatriating stranded Indians from Saudi Arabia is proceeding smoothly with three flights (Riyadh – Kozhikode, Riyadh – Delhi and Dammam – Kochi) already taken off.
The release said passengers on all these flights have been prioritized on the basis of exigencies, such as distressed workers, urgent medical cases, pregnant women, stranded Umrah pilgrims, among others.
The second phase of the mission will include six flights operating from the Kingdom Riyadh – Kozhikode (May 19), Dammam – Kochi (May 19), Riyadh – Kannur (May 20), Dammam – Bengaluru – Hyderabad (May 20), Jeddah-Vijayawada-Hyderabad (May 20), Riyadh – Hyderabad – Vijayawada (May 23).
“It is envisaged that subsequent phases of the mission will also cover flights from the Kingdom to other destinations in India, including Chennai, Mumbai, Patna and Lucknow,” the released added.
However according to Ezhilvendan, despite numerous emails and phone calls, the Indian embassy in Riyadh has failed to pay heed to their requests. He says even the state and the central government have reacted similarly.
“We have sent letters to the Indian embassy here in Riyadh, the Central Government, and State Government, but there has been no response. The embassy always says they will get back to us or gives some number to contact some other officials and again they will ask to wait, this has been going on for the past few weeks. We didn’t find our names in the first phase of the Vande Bharath Mission and it’s not even in the second phase. Leave alone us; there are several people emergency situation. An eight-month pregnant lady is struggling here; doesn’t she fall under the priority list? she should have flown by last month, but still, she is here. If she delivers a baby here, again it will be a huge process to get her back home. She needs to initiate a visa for her child and the authorities will take further time to do that,” he added.
He said the government should permit charter flights to repatriate the people in an emergency situation.
Muruganandham Maran, who works in one of the leading Oil refinery companies in Rabigh city echoes similar views. A native of Salem, Vinod says for the past one month, they have been repeatedly requesting the Indian Embassy in Riyadh but there has been no positive response. He came on a one-month contract basis, his contract period was from March 1 – April 30.
“In Rabigh city alone, which lies closer to Jeddah, there are around 350 Indians and more than 200 Tamilians. There are more pregnant women struggling in Riyadh; we approached several ministers, state politicians from across parties to help us. Everyone said they will do something and that’s about it. There has been no progress. We put out videos on social media about our situation and then we were asked to form a WhatsApp group by the authorities here, we gave all information; but to date, nothing has been done.”
The 35-year-old Inspection engineer added not even one flight service has been initiated to take them home.
“Even last week, we pleaded with the embassy to take us to Delhi because we thought instead of staying here it will be better if we reach India at least, but they were not ready to accept. We don’t know who is stopping us, state or central or the authorities here, we have no clue. All we wanted is to get back home, I am ready to pay even 2,000 Saudi riyal, because the company or the embassy or our government in India is not going to bear our flight expenses anyway and we don’t need that too. We just want to get back home,” he said.
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