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India, Philippines rescue stranded Middle East laborers

With prolonged slump in the price of crude oil taking its toll on Middle Eastern economies, large numbers of migrant workers in the region have suffered layoffs and delayed payments. The situation has reached levels where the governments of their countries of origin, such as India and the Philippines, have had to step in in order to resolve the crisis.

On July 30, India's foreign minister Sushma Swaraj wrote on Twitter that more than 10,000 Indians in Saudi Arabia are going through a "food crisis."

More than 2 million Indian citizens are believed to be working in Saudi Arabia, accounting for the largest proportion of foreign workers in the country. Many of which are engaged in manual labor in construction and manufacturing.

But as the price of oil has caused many construction projects to be suspended, many workers have gone unpaid or been laid off. The crude oil price has been hovering at under $50 per barrel recently -- roughly half of where it stood until mid-2014, before it began to plunge later in the year.

The situation started to turn even worse in late July, as employers stopped providing food to their workers.

Senior officials from India's foreign ministry have visited Saudi Arabia twice to discuss possible measures to improve the situation. Riyadh promised that it will provide financial support for Indians wishing to return home in addition to food support.

Thanks to these arrangements, Indian workers in Saudi Arabia began returning home in mid-August. According to Reuters, however, more than 6,000 remain in Saudi Arabia without being paid.

Meanwhile, the Philippine government has decided to spend total of 500 million pesos ($10.7 million) to help its citizens working in Saudi Arabia. These workers will be paid 20,000 pesos per person to cover temporary living expenses. Philippine labor secretary Silvestre Bello flew to Saudi Arabia on Aug. 15 in an effort to repatriate stranded Filipino workers. Some 2,000 of them have returned, according to Philippine media reports.

The government in Manila has actively encouraged Filipinos to seek work abroad. Migrant workers send approximately $30 billion back to the country annually. According to the government, 1.3 million Filipinos were working in the Middle East in 2015, of which some 600,000 were construction workers or housemaids.

Until 2014, several Middle Eastern countries made a fortune on the back of the resource boom. The region subsequently became home to large numbers of migrant workers from South and Southeast Asia, whose labor helped build the region's infrastructure and high-rise buildings. 

But major companies in Saudi Arabia, such as Saudi Binladin Group, have been hit by weak oil prices and are no longer able to meet their obligations, according to the Department of Labor and Employment in the Philippines.

According to the Gulf Research Center, there are an additional 5 million undocumented migrants on top of the official figure of about 9 million foreign workers in Saudi Arabia.  


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