Around 400 Pakistanis stranded in Samishi KARACHI: Mohammad Tanveer, 26, has recently returned home from Jeddah after spending about four months in the Samishi camp, about 30 kilometres from Makkah.
A resident of Liaquatabad No 10, Tanveer spoke to Dawn on the phone narrating his experience of being stuck with around 400 Pakistanis in the camp, at times without food and water.
“I was earning about 800 Saudi Riyal per month and it was enough for me to send back home. I had been working there for the past two years. Six months ago, we were informed through a colleague of ours that the company I worked for Saudi Oger Limited was halting construction work for a while in Jeddah,” he said.
Initially, he said, it seemed whatever the company was having would be resolved but then a few weeks turned into two months and there was still no salary.
Fate of 12,000 Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia hangs in the balance after their companies go bankrupt
“We were then asked to be in time at the camp every day. There were around 400 of us and we helped out each other whenever we could. We were then shifted to a small wooden room that was fit enough for three people but we had to accommodate eight and at times 10 people because they had no place to go,” he said.
He along with a few friends went to the Pakistani embassy in Jeddah a month ago. “When we were done informing them of our grievances, the officer there told us that no one had asked us to work in Saudi Arabia.”
“We didn’t go there afterwards,” he added.
Tanveer, a mason by profession, then decided to speak to the Saudi authorities. “There’s always a fear of approaching them. Surprisingly, they provided us with food for a few days but then they stopped. Our Iqama or Muqeem card [identity card/ residence permit for expatriates] was also taken away by the construction company. When we approached the police, they said they couldn’t do anything,” he added.
Eventually, Tanveer said, “I decided to abandon my bonus as well as my six months’ salary and leave.”
Mohammad Azhar Hussain Shah is working with a construction group of the Bin Laden Group of Companies for the past three years in Jeddah.
He is among the estimated 12,000 Pakistani labourers in Riyadh, Jeddah, Dammam and Ta’if who are facing an uncertain future after their companies declared bankruptcy or going through a financial crunch.
Originally hailed from Karachi’s Defence Phase-I, Azhar while speaking to Dawn from Jeddah on phone said he was informed through a co-worker six months back that the company would stop paying the employees. “The official announcement that came to us through a notice was quite straightforward. It asked us to come to work every day to mark our presence. And anyone found absent will face a salary cut,” he narrated.
In the ensuing days, Azhar heard about many other Pakistani friends and associates working specifically for construction and drainage companies associated with M/s Saad Trading and Contracting Companies, Al-Khobar and Saudi Oger Limited, facing the same problems. “I live in an average home in Jeddah. But right now, there’s no difference between me and those living in camps near Makkah and Jeddah. I haven’t sent a single penny home for the past six months although I was earning a decent salary of 4,000 riyals making up to Rs100,000. But I can’t do that any more as all my savings went straight home,” he added.
When the situation reached a point where people were going days without food in Dammam and Riyadh, the Pakistani workers thought of organising a sit-in near their camps in the two cities along with Jeddah and Ta’if on July 22, to get the attention of the Saudi and Pakistani authorities.
Naveed Ahmad Khan who belongs to Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) was also part of the protest demonstration. He said the authorities did take notice of the sit-in but only to ask them “not to make a nuisance”. What irked him was the apathy of the Pakistani officials towards their ordeal. “It seemed like we are beggars. We were demanding our rights. My passport is still with the company. I can neither move out nor stay here. I’m in a fix,” Khan narrated.
All the workers Dawn spoke to denied receiving any help from the Pakistani embassy.
The Foreign Office spokesperson, Nafees Zakaria, however, claimed that the embassy in Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam and Ta’if reached out to around 8,520 Pakistani workers including 520 associated with Saad Trading Company and 8,000 associated with Saudi Oger Limited.
“Unlike India, we have not been highlighting our efforts probably that’s why it’s easy to target us,” he believed. He added that the embassy ensured that there was medical facility, food for the workers and “the Saudi authorities cooperate with our workers.
“Pakistani Ambassador Manzoor ul Haq was the only one who was present at the site (camps) ensuring the workers were safe,” he said.
There are around 2.6 million Pakistanis in the kingdom at the moment. According to a labourer, Saleem Satti in Rawalpindi, who recently got back home after the company he worked for, Al Jazea Company in Riyadh, declared bankruptcy mainly due to the recent decline in oil prices.
“The war in Yemen is another facet of the financial problems faced by the companies. These companies declare bankruptcy so that they don’t have to pay workers or worry about their rights,” he added.