Jeddah : THE first batch of 25 Indian workers from Saudi Oger company left Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport for New Delhi on a Saudia flight Thursday morning. Relief and excitement were palpable, but a tinge of anxiety too rent the air.
Arriving in two buses, the workers with their limited belongings were welcomed at the airport by Indian Consul General Mohamed Noor Rahman Sheikh and senior officials Anand Kumar and S.R.H. Fahmi.
On entering the Saudia terminal, the workers repeatedly thanked the consul general and the Indian officials for getting them to travel back home without hassles, as well as repeatedly seeking assurances that the mission would take care of their dues and remit it to them.
The workers clicked away on their smartphones the consul general and Indian officials, while some posed with them for memories. The Indian mission officials were smiling and gracious to the last in seeing off the workers.
Abdul Bashit Jedani, general manager of Jeddah Labor office, was at hand to see off the first batch. When the consul general expressed his thanks and gratitude for the Saudi support and the labor department’s keen interest, Jedani remarked, “We are happy that the workers are happy and we are only doing our duty.”
Sheikh, after seeing off the batch, stated: “We are thankful to the Saudi government for their efforts in alleviating the problems of the Indian workers. In fact the first batch is leaving today as they had secured their exit visa earlier and we could send them back home as the tickets are being provided by the Saudi government free of cost.”
“It’s a very positive gesture, and really unprecedented. And we are very grateful for the quick and positive response. We have also been getting reports that the stamping of exit visas have begun for other workers and also the transfers are being effected. I think it is going in a very positive direction, the exit visa stampings and those workers seeking transfers the process has begun on both fronts,” Sheikh added.
“More officials are visiting the camps and are making their choices, allowing for the workers to effect a change in workplace. And the unprecedented Saudi response will hopefully provide a quick resolution to the issue,” he added.
“We have come here to see the first batch of workers return to India. The batch consists of 25 workers, who are being sent back on the tickets provided by Saudi Arabia and I once again reiterate that we are very grateful for their support in this hour of need.
“I share the happiness of the workers on getting their exit stamped and given fares to their hometowns. As the majority of the people traveling are from north India, we are sending the batch to New Delhi. There the regional commissioners from the state will be at hand to provide the workers tickets for their onward destination.
“We will see the number of people leaving to decide on the future destinations of the batches. Currently this batch has a large number of workers from Rajasthan, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Hence we are sending them to Delhi. But others from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu too will travel to Delhi, and their onward journey has already been booked on domestic airways by the state government, who have been requested by the External Affairs Ministry to take care of their wards from their state,” Sheikh elaborated.
The 25 are among the estimated 8,000 workers of the Saudi Oger company, who wished to leave the country following non-payment of salaries and dues, and had to be given food and shelter in some 20 camps.
The crisis also saw Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman issuing directives to address their problems, and earmarking SR100 million to address the concerns of the workers. King Salman also directed the Saudi Passports Department (Jawazat) to facilitate exit visas and other procedures for the distressed workers.
The Indian mission had brought dates and Zamzam to offer as a parting gift for the departing workers.
The poignancy of the moment was summed up by a statement from Nasir Raza of Gaya district in Bihar, who had returned to Saudi Arabia only recently after a vacation and is now leaving for good.
“Due to non-payment of wages, there was no meaning in staying on,” he said.
Raza, a technician, said he was ready for the challenges ahead, while adding, “Yahan rahe kar kjajur aur Zamzam na leh kar jaye to dukh hoga.”
Translated, Raza’s statement stressed that ‘after living here (Saudi Arabia) it would hurt me if I do not take dates and Zamzam back with me’.
He thanked the consul general profusely for providing these two simple gifts to the deportees. “I’ve filed my claims and left it at the hands of the mission, who have promised me a quick resolution by sending me my dues,” he added.
Indian consulate officials have assured the workers that they will pursue financial claims on their behalf, and all have left signed claims in order to be reimbursed.
“It is saddening to leave Saudi Arabia as I loved this place; but now the challenges are many,” said Ram Nivas, a plumber from Churu district in Rajasthan.
“I have full faith in both the governments of Saudi Arabia and India and I have authorized them to collect my pending arrears and send them to me in India,” said Musharaf Ali, a driver hailing from Meerut in Uttar Pradesh who was in the Kingdom for eight years.
“I had heart surgery and the huge expenses were borne by the now ill-fated company. I had enjoyed working there. Though there was the option to seek new employment, I prefer to return home,” said Shakir Ahmed, a resident of Patna in Bihar.
“When I arrived three years ago I felt so happy to be part of such a large company, but the situation worsened and it is sad to return home. I love the country,” said V. Ram Prasad of Visakhapatnam, Andhra Pradesh.
Punniavel Palanisamy from Tamil Nadu said, “Though I’m happy to leave, what awaits me is a worry. As is the fact that I’ll get my dues, which could help me in the future.”
In the list of 25, 18 workers are from Sikar in Rajasthan, while the others come from nearby states.
Those who have left Jeddah include: Nasir Raza Sayed Gulam Mustafa; Punniavel Palanisamy; Ram Prasad Venka; Javed Nabi; Bilal Ahmed; Anil Kumar; Mohammed Jabid; Sathya Pal Singh; Mohd. Imran Mannan; Meghwal Umaram; Khushraj Raj; Ikrar Ahmed Abrar Ahmed; Mohammed Rashid; Nair Khan; Mohammed Iqbal; Mohammed Usain Mohammed; Juber Khan; Akbar Ansari; Mohd. Tanveer Alam; Niwas; Mashrrob Ali; Sita Ram; Ravindra Chaudhry and Shakir Ahmad. (One person was recorded with only his passport and iqama no. G2204476/2356533663)
— With input from agencies