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Abandoned in Saudi Desert Camps due to Kingdom’s economic slump, Migrant workers won’t Leave without Pay

As the salary delays have worsened, frustrated workers have in some cases staged rare public protests

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A Syrian refugee family walks towards the new Syrian camp of Azraq, . Image source: VOA
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igrant construction workers say they will not accept a government offer of free flights home unless they receive months of unpaid wages.

The plight of the workers, stranded for months in crowded dormitories at labor camps with little money and limited access to food, water or medical care, has alarmed their home countries and drawn unwelcome attention to the conditions of some of the 10 million foreign workers on whom the Saudi economy depends.

The government says it is trying to resolve the situation by giving the workers- who normally need their employers’ permission to leave the country – the right to go home and free transport back. It is also granting them special permission to stay while they look for other jobs.

But workers say they fear that if they leave they will end up with nothing at all.

“We will wait here – one year, two years. We will wait for our money. Then we will go back,” said Sardar Naseer, 35, a Pakistani welder at the Qadisiya Labor Camp, which houses around 2,000 workers from construction conglomerate Saudi Oger.

Naseer says he is owed 22,000 riyals ($5,900) after receiving no wages for eight months. Workers at the camp, about 20 km (13 miles) from the center of Riyadh, said they had stopped work about four months ago and none had been paid since January.

Oger, the family firm of billionaire former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, did not respond to requests for comment for this story. The Hariri family did not immediately respond to an e-mail seeking comment.

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In July, Oger stopped providing food, electricity, maintenance and medical services at several of its camps including Qadisiyah, prompting the Saudi Labor Ministry to take over the provision of basic services there, men at the camp said.

They sleep six to eight to a tiny room, with stray cats and cockroaches lingering on torn bedsheets. They sit on the floor to eat food rations provided by the Labor Ministry or their embassies.

A cat sits near an Asian worker at his accommodation in Qadisiya labor camp, Saudi. Image source: VOA
A cat sits near an Asian worker at his accommodation in Qadisiya labor camp, Saudi. Image source: VOA

There is no regular supply of clean drinking water – a filter on a public water fountain meant to be changed daily has not been serviced in a year – so they are forced to buy bottled water with their own money.

Saudi Oger, which employs some 30,000 workers, has built mega-projects including Riyadh’s palatial 500-room Ritz Carlton hotel and all-female Princess Noura Bint Abdulrahman University.

It is one of Saudi Arabia’s two most prominent construction companies, along with the Saudi Binladin Group. Both have faced financial difficulties as the world’s biggest oil exporter has suffered from the fall in the price of crude.

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Construction projects have been halted or slowed and revenue has fallen. As the salary delays have worsened, frustrated workers have in some cases staged rare public protests.

Countries including India, Pakistan, and the Philippines have sent senior officials to Riyadh to press authorities to assist their workers. Indian officials said this month that more than 6,200 former Indian employees of Oger were stranded in Saudi camps after being laid off and owed wages.

“Good Image”

Two weeks ago, after Indian authorities raised their concerns, King Salman set aside 100 million riyals of government money to help the stranded workers, mostly from Pakistan, India, the Philippines and Bangladesh.

Saudi Labor Minister Mufrej al-Haqbani told Reuters on Wednesday that several distressed local firms, including Saudi Binladin Group, had now started paying overdue wages. Binladin executives promised him that payments would be completed by September, he said.

Oger is the only company still broadly withholding payments, and the Labor Ministry will press foreigners’ wage claims through the kingdom’s labor dispute system, Haqbani said, without specifying when claims might be resolved.

“Saudi Oger – now we’ll take it to the courts. Now we are responsible for that. We’ve hired lawyers,” he said. “As the ministry, we will go through the labor dispute courts to go after Saudi Oger and to collect the claims.”

He also said the troubles at Oger were not a sign of problems with Saudi Arabia’s overall employment of foreign workers, most of whom were choosing to remain in the country.

“This is a small segment…of the labor market. We have more than 10 million expats working happily here in the country. When a company like Saudi Oger fails to comply with the rules, this will never destroy the good image of our labor market.”

Philippines Secretary of Labor Silvestre Bello, who visited Riyadh for talks with Haqbani this week, said that with the assistance of Saudi authorities, about 1,000 Filipino workers could be sent home by mid-September.

At the camp, Mohammed Niaz, 42, said his two daughters back in Pakistan had stopped attending school because he could no longer send money home for fees.

“I’m wasting my time. I want to go to Pakistan,” he said.

But he added that he refused to leave Saudi Arabia without the 13,000 riyals which Oger owed him. “My family has no money. My daughters are out of school. How can I go to Pakistan?” (VOA)

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The Truth About The Killing Of Khashoggi Will Be Revealed By The Turkish President

Amnesty International called on Saudi Arabia to "immediately produce" Khashoggi's body so an autopsy can be performed.

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, delivers a speech at supporters in Istanbul. VOA

Saudi Arabia says Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman spoke Monday by telephone with the son of slain journalist Jamal Khashoggi to express condolences for the killing.

Khashoggi died after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey on October 2.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is vowing to reveal details about the case in a Tuesday speech to his parliament.

He told an Istanbul rally Sunday, “We are looking for justice here and this will be revealed in all its naked truth, not through some ordinary steps.”

Erdogan spoke to U.S. President Donald Trump by telephone Sunday. Turkey’s state-run news agency said both leaders agree the Khashoggi case needs to be “cleared up with all aspects.”

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(FILE)- Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. VOA

Saudi Arabia called Khashoggi’s killing inside its Istanbul consulate “a huge and grave mistake” and vowed those responsible for it would be held accountable.

Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir told Fox News Sunday that Saudi agents “did this out of the scope of their authority,” calling it “a rogue operation.”

The top Saudi diplomat offered his condolences to Khashoggi’s family, but disclosed no new information about how the writer was killed, where his body is or if Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — the country’s de facto ruler – was involved.

“There obviously was a tremendous mistake made and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to try to cover up,” al-Jubeir said. “That is unacceptable in any government.”

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Saudi Arabi’s Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir. VOA

Saudi Arabia claims the 59-year-old Khashoggi was killed October 2 after an argument leading to a fist fight — an explanation that has drawn widespread international scorn and skepticism, including from Trump. After he initially seemed willing to believe Saudi accounts, the president now says “obviously there has been deception, and there has been lies.”

Al-Jubeir said in the Fox television interview, “This is an aberration. This is a mistake and those responsible will be punished for it. We want to make sure that we know what happened and we want to make sure that those responsible be held to account.” Saudi Arabia says it has fired five key officials linked to the death and arrested 18 others.

Critics are questioning how a team of 15 Saudi agents could fly to Istanbul to meet Khashoggi and eventually kill him without the crown prince’s knowledge and consent. But al-Jubeir said, “There were not people closely tied to him,” although news accounts have said that several Saudi security officials close to Mohammed were involved.

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This image taken from CCTV video obtained by the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet and made available on Oct. 9, 2018 claims to show Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. VOA

Khashoggi was living in the U.S. in self-imposed exile, writing columns for The Washington Post that were critical of Mohammed and Saudi Arabia’s intervention in the conflict in Yemen.

Trump told the Post that Saudi Arabia has been an “incredible ally” of the United States for decades and it is possible the crown prince did not order Saudi agents to kill Khashoggi.

“Nobody has told me he is responsible. Nobody has told me he is not responsible,” the U.S. leader said. “We have not reached that point…I would love if he was not responsible.”

Numerous U.S. lawmakers, including Trump’s Republican colleagues, are calling for sanctions against the Saudis. Turkish investigators say Saudi agents tortured Khashoggi, decapitated him and then dismembered his body.

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In a frame from surveillance camera footage taken Oct. 2, 2018, and published Oct. 18, 2018, by Turkish newspaper Sabah, a man identified by Turkish officials as Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, walks toward the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. VOA

Trump told the Post that “something will take place” in response to Khashoggi’s death, but said the United States should not let the incident disrupt a possible $110 billion weapons sale to Riyadh he announced last year.

“It’s the largest order in history,” Trump said. “To give that up would hurt us far more than it hurts them. Then all they’ll do is go to Russia or go to China. All that’s doing is hurting us.”

But one Trump supporter, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, told Fox “I don’t think arms should ever be seen as a jobs program.”

Other U.S. lawmakers voiced skepticism of the Saudi explanation for Khashoggi’s death.

Senator Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN he believes Mohammed bin Salman was responsible, saying, “Yes, I think he did it.”

 

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President Donald Trump talks to reporters about journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance prior to boarding Air Force One for travel to Montana from Joint Base Andrews, Md. VOA

A Trump critic, Democratic California Congressman Adam Schiff, told ABC News, “This ought to be a relationship-altering event for the U.S. and Saudi Arabia that we ought to suspend military sales, we ought to suspend certain security assistance.”

U.S. officials are faced with reconciling the Saudi explanation for Khashoggi’s death and Turkey’s claim an audio recording exists of Khashoggi’s torture and death. Trump denies U.S. officials have heard the audio or read transcripts of it, but the Post quoted sources saying that Central Intelligence Agency officials have listened to the audio. Verification of it would make it difficult to accept the Saudi explanation for Khashoggi’s death.

European leaders and the human rights group Amnesty International expressed skepticism about the Saudi explanation.

Britain, Germany and France issued a joint statement condemning the killing of Khashoggi and said there is an “urgent need for clarification of exactly what happened.” They said the Saudi explanation for the journalist’s death needs to be supported by facts in order to be credible.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the circumstances around Khashoggi’s death are deeply troubling, and called for a thorough, credible and transparent investigation.

Amnesty International called on Saudi Arabia to “immediately produce” Khashoggi’s body so an autopsy can be performed.

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Amnesty’s director of campaigns for the Middle East, Samah Hadid, said a United Nations investigation would be necessary to avoid a “Saudi whitewash” of the circumstances surrounding Khashoggi’s death. Hadid said such a cover-up may have been done to preserve Saudi Arabia’s international business ties. (VOA)