The tweet had images of workers queuing up for food. These Indians worked for Saudi Oger, a construction company that employs more than 50,000 in that country.

Troubled lives

The lives of the six million Indian migrant workers in the Middle East have for long been under scrutiny.

Mostly in blue collar jobs such as construction labour, many have faced severe hardships like working outdoors in extreme temperatures and living under deplorable conditions—all for meagre pay. On some occasions, labourers have also been physically abused and their passports forcibly retained to restrict their movement.

Thousands have also lost their lives under such harsh conditions. In 2015 alone, some 5,900 Indians died in the Gulf countries with most deaths reported from Saudi Arabia (2,691) and the UAE (1,540). In Qatar, which is hosting the 2022 FIFA World Cup, some 500 Indians have died since 2012 after being forced to work in extreme heat.

Of the five million Indians employed in the region, nearly 3.5 million are in the UAE, while some 1.9 million are in Saudi Arabia, according to United Nations data on migrant movements.

Most Indian migrants are lured by promises of relatively higher pay in oil-rich countries such as Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Iraq, besides Saudi and the UAE. Every year, Indians working in the Gulf region send $30 billion to India, accounting for almost half of the country’s total remittances.

Since last year, however, Saudi Arabia has cut down on governmental spending following an economic crisis due to low crude oil prices. Local construction firms, which mostly rely on Indian migrant workers, too, have been under pressure, as a result.

The Kingdom has also introduced the Nitaqat law which makes it tougher to hire foreign labourers, and instead force companies to provide jobs to locals. The UAE and Qatar now plan to introduce similar laws.

That would mean an end to the Indian migrant dream that started in the late 1960s. But, for thousands, it is already a nightmare.

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