Kolkata: A video of around 21 goldsmith workers from Jeddah Saudi Arabia pleading to the Indian government and activists to have them freed reached the inbox of the National Anti-Trafficking Committee (NATC), Kolkata Chapter, on October 22, 2019.
In a letter address to the chairperson of NATC, Nazrul Islam, a resident of Hooghly’s Dangapara village wrote, “We came to Saudi Arabia for goldsmith work on April 26, 2011, for a company named Musalli Gold. Everything was good, including the salary. But for the past two years, things are not that well for us. First, our visa expired. Then they started paying our salary very late and now our food allowance has been completely stopped. Following which 21 workers applied for a complete exit about a year ago. We were told to wait for a few months. After three months we applied for the exit once again. But this time, the company replied saying that they had not paid tax to the Saudi Government for 29 years and hence the employee would have to wait till the company cleared its due to the government.”
Migrant workers seen in the video also pleaded, “We need to be back, as some of our parents are unwell, while some of our parents are on the verge of dying. We need to go back.”
While in the video, one of the migrant workers from Howrah is seen pleading in Bengali, “We are goldsmiths from West Bengal, and we are stuck here in Saudi Arabia for the past two years. We have been pleading to our employer to send us back to our country. We work for Saudi Arab’s Musalli Gold Factory. Our company is not responding to our plea. They are telling us to do what we can. We have been told that we can go back to our country on our own. But with no passport, how can we? Also, for three months we haven’t been paid. We don’t have food to eat and water to drink.”
When eNewsroom contact NATC, Chairperson, Sekh Jinnar Ali, he said, “Today morning we got a response from the consulate general of Saudi Arabia. They have sent a team to the location for rescue. It will take time for them to return as the whereabouts of their passport is unknown.”
They also requested Indian government to help them, “We have even approached the Indian Consulate, Jeddah, regarding the same. But they also haven’t been able to do much. It has been seven months for us now and we are clueless about how much time the company would take to clear its dues. We are requesting you to help us.”
When eNewsroom contacted NATC Chairperson, Sekh Jinnar Ali, he said, “Today morning we got a response from the consulate general of Saudi Arabia. They have sent a team to the location for rescue. It will take time for them to return as the whereabouts of their passport is unknown.”
The NATC Chairperson added, “These agencies like Shameem Travels Manpower Consultant, Mumbai, send Indians from poor regions to the middle east. The poor workers are lured with the promise of a great salary. Often, we have seen while rescuing migrant workers that the agencies sell them off to the company, who in turn confiscate their passport the moment the workers reach the airports of the West Asian countries. Often these workers are sent on a tourist visa, which expires within a month. Thereby, with an expired visa and no passport in hand, begins the phase of exploitation of these workers.”
Meanwhile, Samirul Islam, president of Bangla Sanskriti Mancha, an NGO, which has been working for migrant workers, said, “This is a grave problem. And hence we have decided to permanently solve the migrant workers’ issue. On behalf of Bangla Sanskriti Mancha, we are going to form a team which will work at the block level to collect the data like where the worker wants to go, what are the sources and verify the sources. We intend to create a district wise database so that help can be doled out in the right manner when needed and also nip this issue right at the start.”
The story of 21 Indian goldsmiths from West Bengal’s Cooch Behar area is the same as that of many migrant workers who reach foreign shores in search of a better livelihood. Their fate is also not different from those thousands of Indians from rural West Bengal, Jharkhand, Bihar and other states migrate to a foreign nation – get trapped in a nexus, that often deprives them of their basic human rights. Under such circumstances, all that matters to them is their freedom.