Saudis promise relief for 'stuck migrants'

Asian labourers at a construction site in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Asian labourers at a construction site in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia has promised to help thousands of Asian migrant workers stuck without pay after losing their jobs in the construction industry.

The labourers from India, Pakistan and the Philippines among others are relying on food handouts organised by embassies and charities.

Many have also lost legal status, as residence permits are handled by their employers.

Low oil prices have hit the Saudi construction industry hard.

The full extent of the crisis has emerged over the past few days with moves by various governments to start helping their stranded citizens.

India has sent a junior foreign minister, Vijay Kumar Singh to try to arrange flights home for several thousand migrants lacking money to travel.

Authorities say around 7,700 Indian workers are affected by the layoffs and are housed in 20 camps.

Twitter savvy

Image copyright Twitter
Image caption Foreign office minister VK Singh is using twitter to report on his trip to Saudi Arabia

Indian officials have been using the hashtag "#NoIndianLeftBehind" to highlight their efforts.

Apart from arranging repatriation, officials are trying to address workers' complaints about unpaid wages and end-of-service benefits.

Pakistan, too, has promised action.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif's office said Pakistan's embassy in Riyadh has set up a centre to provide food and medical help as well as dealing with claims for outstanding payments.

"We stand by our hardworking workers who are away from their homeland to earn a living for their families," the statement said. "They are our strength and pride."

Officials say over 8,000 Pakistani workers are affected.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Many migrant workers say they have not been paid in months

'Urgent action'

More than 10,000 Filipino migrant workers are affected, the Department of Labour in Manila estimates.

Labour officials say they are assisting families left without essential remittance payments.

"While awaiting their separation pay and other money claims, some of the children of these Overseas Filipino Workers had to stop their schooling," Labour and Employment Secretary Silvestre H. Bello said.

Data from other countries is also beginning to emerge.

Sri Lanka's Foreign Employment Bureau says at least 100 of its citizens are affected.

The Nepalese embassy in Jeddah says it is increasingly receiving complaints from its nationals about salary payments being delayed for several months, but the numbers are low.

Saudi media say the authorities have promised urgent action to help the stranded workers by easing restrictions on residency and on leaving the country.

India's consul general in Jeddah, Noor Rahman Sheikh said the Saudi government was offering to help with provisions and repatriation too.

"They have made arrangements to take care of the food of these workers," he told the BBC. "They've conveyed that they're willing to even carry those Indians on Saudi Arabian airlines back to India."

Millions of workers from Asian countries have found employment in Saudi Arabia and other gulf states, sending vital remittances home to their families.

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