There are many Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) run by groups of expats, most of whom are working on string budgets through donations by fellow countrymen. Many among them volunteer their free time to help their fellow nationals in distress. One of the most significant groups among NGOs is the expatriate Indians who usually join or form their own NGOs.
Some years back, the Indian diplomatic missions made good use of these volunteers to help the workers either to correct their status or to help them return home. Through this experience, the Embassy of India in Riyadh had realised the value of the volunteers and subsequently formed help desk committees to accommodate volunteers in Riyadh, Dammam, and Jubail. Even the local authorities appreciate their assistance and intervention to get cases moving along.
The volunteers have to register with the Embassy to help the workers in labour disputes, jail cases, or the transportation of the dead back to their country. The Embassy would provide authorisation to the volunteer to approach the sponsor or the concerned authorities to get justice to the workers. The limited Embassy staff simply cannot cope with all the cases that flood its doors across a large country like Saudi Arabia where approximate 2.5 million Indian expats work.
The Jubail Helpdesk is one such committee of approximately 40 volunteers from various walks of life. They started back in March 2014 and formed separate wings to specialise their follow-up on labour complaints, death cases, jail cases, etc. They have handled hundreds of various cases so far.
They brought several labour discrepancies to light including the 17 Indian workers jailed by a foreign firm in Jubail. When the same company recruited some 91 workers from India and denied them their agreed salary, Jubail Helpdesk came forward and took up their cause, and with the support of the Indian Embassy. This forced the company to give the workers their rights. Now for more than one year, those workers are paid their contractual rights regularly.
An Indian housewife from Surat, Gujrat was murdered by her husband in Jubail and the Indian Embassy authorised Jubail Helpdesk volunteers to provide the necessary help to the family of the victim. The family wished to come to Jubail and the NGO assisted them to get a visit visa and help complete the formalities to allow the family to take back the body of the deceased woman. During their stay, a trip to Makkah and Madinah was arranged by the NGO. Their hotel stay was sponsored by the Flour Arabia Co in Khobar, where her husband had worked.
When a desperate Tamil Nadu native housemaid Stella Manikandan threw a message in a plastic water bottle through her window where she was locked up in a house in Fanateer in Jubail, the Indian worker who found the message alerted the Jubail Helpdesk. She was asking anyone’s help. The volunteers took the case to the police station and forced the sponsor to send her back home.
When Kerala native Raveendran Nair was put behind bars by his company and imprisoned for several days for the disappearance of power cables at his worksite, Help desk volunteers investigated the details and proved his innocence. Accordingly, Raveendran Nair was freed and paid all his salary and benefits.
When Ali Hussain Miyan passed away, his body remained in a morgue in Al-Ahsa for months as he was one of 14 workers who had filed a labour case against his company. Jubail Help desk cut through the bureaucratic red tape and brought the issue to light and the authorities forced the sponsor to send the body to India immediately.
Jubail every so often is highlighted in the news due to the high number of Indian fishermen working the coast and who inadvertently drift into territorial waters of other neighbouring countries and get locked up. The Jubail Helpdesk has been instrumental in their release.
The TN FIDET (Tamil Nadu Fishermen Development Trust) is another NGO established back in 2012 by a South Indian P. Justin Antony to assist Indian fisherman whose boats have strayed beyond allowed perimeters and who had been subsequently rounded up and locked away in prison. The fishermen are summarily rounded up while their fate hangs in balance. With minimal education and helpless to defend themselves, they have NGOs such as TN FIDET to thank. The organisation follows up on cases and coordinates with the respective diplomatic missions and local authorities to expedite their release.
These NGOs perform the service without any expectations other than to ease the suffering of their countrymen. They do it with goodwill, and it is this kind of goodwill that all of us should exercise in the service of humanity.
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi sociopolitical commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Twitter: @talmaeena