India said today it is negotiating with authorities in Saudi Arabia to repatriate thousands of migrant workers after they lost their jobs, leaving them destitute and with no money to return home.
Foreign minister Sushma Swaraj told parliament she was sending a junior minister to Riyadh after reports that around 10,000 workers had lost their jobs and been left to starve.
Indians are among millions of poor Asians working in the Gulf states, where human rights groups say many suffer exploitation and abuses including non-payment of wages, with no channels for redress.
Many of the companies employing them have suffered from the drop in oil revenues from falling prices, prompting a downturn in construction and layoffs.
The Indian consulate in Jeddah has been providing free food for its nationals since their plight came to light last week, but Swaraj said the situation could not be allowed to continue.
"This can't be a permanent solution, we will have to bring them back," Swaraj told the lower house of the parliament Monday.
However that is being hampered by a Saudi requirement that workers provide a no-objection certificate from their employers before they can leave the country, she said.
Junior minister VK Singh will travel to Riyadh on Tuesday to try to sort the situation out, she said.
Among those stranded are some 2,450 workers laid off by Saudi Oger, the once-mighty construction giant led by Lebanon's billionaire former prime minister Saad Hariri.
"No jobless Indian will sleep hungry. If they want to come back home, the government will ensure their safe return...we have a collective responsibility towards our citizens," Swaraj said.
Nearly three million Indians live and work in Saudi Arabia, according to the foreign ministry, one of the largest populations outside of India. In November 2014, Gulf and Asian labour ministers agreed on a series of initiatives aimed at boosting protection and improving conditions of employment for foreign workers in the Gulf.