“We don’t want anything, we just want to come back to our homes in India,” says 40-year-old Kuppuswamy Murugan, who, along with more than 220 others is stuck at a workers-camp in Dammam in Saudi Arabia. They have not been paid for months and the Indian embassy has stopped responding to their calls for help.
Murugan and his co-workers landed in Dammam thinking working in an oil plant would fetch him and his family a good life. They were promised a salary of at least 1120 riyals a month, many were promised much more. But that was not meant to be.
Today, the workers have not met their family for three years. Some of them have not got their salary for the last six months, others for eight months. In all, about 225 workers from India have been secluded to the camp without income or a job. There are people as young as 38 and as old as 68, all waiting to get back home.
On August 25, 2015, Indian National Rural Labour Federation (Tamil Nadu) sent a letter to the External Affairs Minister requesting to bring back the 23 workers from Tamil Nadu to India. "The workers, who have not been to India for 3 years, are left question of survival since their Work Permit, medical insurance and IQAMA- a residence permit issued to those expatriates who arrive in KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) on an employment visa, was not reissued,” said the letter.
Kuppusamy Murugan's passport
Murugan and many others’ contract with the Mohammed Almojil Group expired in January 2015, after which he and others sent a letter asking the Indian Embassy and the Labour courts to make arrangements for their return to India. But there has been no help from them yet.
Speaking to The News Minute from Dammam, Murugan said, “We started our protest in January. The people from the Indian Embassy and the Labour courts promised to make arrangements in two months as the company was running at a loss.”
Murugan’s family, back home, is suffering in his absence. Murugan’s wife, Gandhimathi is now the only source of income for the family and works as a daily-wage labourer. She has two sons and a daughter who along with Murugan's mother depend on her salary, which is not much. "When we got to know of the job, the whole family decided to send him to Saudi. Now we are repenting, as we haven’t seen him for three years. Murugan has been a heart patient for the last three years. The basic facilities in the camp are bad. They are not even given good food,” she says.
There have been deaths in the camps too, but they dead bodies are taken away, nobody know what happens to them. “Neither were we allowed to see what happened nor would they give us any details if we ask. How will we know if they keep us in the dark?” asks Murugan, who himself is on medication having faced two heart attacks in the last three years.
The workers sent a video asking the government to help them
Karnan Ramamurthy from Indian National Rural Labour Federation says they are awaiting a response from the MEA. “A few months back, when the Indian Embassy met the workers they were told the company might get back the project and would give the workers the money that is due,” he says.
"I think the Indian Embassy has not sent any information to the Ministry of External Affairs. Only after they inform the MEA, would the government be able to look into the matter," says Ramamurthy. If the Ministry of External Affairs does not respond to the letter, then the Federation will have to try other ways, he says.
“This is not confined to Tamil Nadu. This is an all India problem. We are going to collaborate with other trade unions across the country and will arrange for a meeting with the External Affairs Minister,” says Ramamurthy.