India to evacuate starving workers from Saudi Arabia

In this May 8, 2014 file photo, a man works at a construction site in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia.


NEW DELHI -- India's government says it plans to evacuate thousands of Indian workers who have lost their jobs in Saudi Arabia and cannot afford to pay for a flight home.

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said Monday that the government was arranging exit documents for those workers who wished to return to India.

Swaraj told lawmakers that India's junior foreign minister, V.K. Singh, will travel to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday to meet with Saudi officials to arrange for the workers' return. She said that some of the workers have not been paid for months.

The workers were mostly employed by Saudi construction companies, and were laid off amid a slowdown in the industry due to low global oil prices. Around 10,000 Indian workers in Saudi Arabia have lost their jobs.

On Saturday, Swaraj said the government was providing food aid to thousands of Indian workers in Saudi Arabia who are not able to buy food after losing their jobs in the kingdom. In a series of tweets over the weekend, she said that the Indian Embassy in Riyadh would ensure that no laid-off worker went without food.

Indian news reports said that many of the workers have not been paid for months.

Swaraj said that while there were also reports of Indian workers in Kuwait losing their jobs, the situation in Saudi Arabia was worse.

"While situation in Kuwait is manageable, matters are much worse in Saudi Arabia," she tweeted.

Hundreds of thousands of Indian workers travel to the Middle East each year for better-paying jobs than back home, working as laborers, electricians and drivers. They endure substandard living and working conditions in order to send money back to their impoverished families in India.