Hundreds of Keralites in dire straits in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia

Thiruvananthapuram: Hundreds of Keralites in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and elsewhere in the Middle East are facing a livelihood crisis brought about by unpaid salaries and benefits and non-renewal of their work permits.

The problems at the construction giant Saudi Binladin Group, where a large number of Indians work, is a case in point, said those in the know.

The the Saudi Arabian government suspended the Group from undertaking new contracts last September after it was held responsible for an accident at Mecca's Grand Mosque that killed 107 people.

The ban was lifted in May but not before the Group laid off tens of thousands of workers. The workers who continue to be employed by the Group, directly or indirectly, have not been paid their salaries.

Lateef, a Keralite who has worked at the Saudi Binladin Group for many years, said about 10,000 Indians, including numerous from Kerala, find themselves in limbo as their work permits have not been renewed.

"We have not got salary for the past five months and the condition at the labour camps with 4,500 inmates is really pathetic. Getting water and food is tough," said Lateef, speaking from Saudi Arabia to the reporters here.

"We request that some Indian officials immediately come here and see for themselves what the conditions are."

CPI-M Lok Sabha member P. Karunakaran told reporters that the issues facing Indian workers in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are very serious and "we are bringing it before the Lok Sabha today".

He said he has urged Union External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to intervene. Karunakaran cited the case of about 15,000 Indians working with Kharafi National Company in Kuwait not being paid salaries on time.

An Indian worker, who has three months' salary arrears outstanding, told IANS that circumstances have been tough.

"A strike took place when workers of other nationalities, who locked the labour camps, insisted that none need to report for work. For a few days none could go out but then many escaped from the camp and reported for work. Of these there are more than 4000 Keralites," the employee said, requesting not to be identified.

The office of former Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy has been receiving numerous calls from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and from anxious relatives in the state.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday asked the non-resident Keralite department officials to see that the issue is taken up at all levels.

According to sources, Swaraj has decided to send her two junior colleagues to the Middle East. V.K. Singh will fly to Saudi Arabia and M.J. Akbar is expected to reach Kuwait shortly.

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