Bahrain firm allows stranded Indian workers to leave

The campaign poster of
Image caption The Avaaz petition was signed by more than 20,000 people

About 100 Indian workers stranded in Bahrain for six years will be able to return home after an agreement between the Indian embassy and the Nass Corporation construction firm.

The workers were legally barred from leaving because they had left the firm before completing their contract terms.

The company has agreed to withdraw all cases against employees who were accused of "absconding from work".

More than 20,000 people signed an online petition to bring them back.

The petition was launched on the Avaaz online campaign website last month by the brother of a worker who killed himself earlier this year.

Shanker Mariappan from the southern state of Tamil Nadu said his brother, Pasupathi Mariappan, hanged himself in a public garden in Bahrain.

"The Indian embassy in Bahrain and Nass Contracting, Bahrain, had an agreement last week by which the 100 Indian workers will be able to return home," foreign ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin told the BBC.

"The issue had been dragging on for a long time," he said.

In a statement, Nass Corporation said it agreed to withdraw the court cases against the "run-away" Indian workers as a "goodwill gesture".

"The company will not hereafter institute any legal proceedings against run-away workers except in cases of criminal offences, if any, committed by them," the statement said.

The company had accused the workers of "absconding from work" in 2006 after many of them left the company complaining of low wages.

The workers' visas were sponsored by the company, a requirement under Bahrain law for anyone leaving the country.

Nearly 400,000 Indians live and work in Bahrain and campaigners say many live in extreme poverty - they are often not paid the wages they are promised and their passports are taken away from them.

In 2009 Bahrain's own labour minister criticised the visa sponsor system, saying it was akin to slavery.

Avaaz has welcomed the news and described it as "a huge victory for 20,000 people" who signed the petition.

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