Migrant construction workers, abandoned in their thousands by Saudi employers in filthy desert camps during the kingdom's economic slump, say they will not accept a government offer of free flights home unless they receive months of unpaid wages. Rosanna Philpott reports.
Abandoned for months in desert camps, and now sent packing with no pay. Thousands of foreign workers stranded by their Saudi employers as the Kingdom suffers an economic slump after the fall in the price of crude oil. These migrants worked for construction giant Saudi Oger - the family company of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri. They haven't been paid since January, and in July they stopped receiving food, electricity and medical services. Living conditions are squalid, but they say they won't budge. (SOUNDBITE) (English) PAKISTANI WORKER, SARDAR NASEER, SAYING: "The situation is very bad. The food is not good. Also the health, the cleaning system is not good. Otherwise, too much problems. Medical problems. Many person are sick but they cannot go hospital because they don't have insurance. Therefore, they cannot treatment here." Shocked home countries sending help: Philippines Labour Secretary Silvestre Bello arriving in Riyadh to demand fair treatment. His counterparts from India and Pakistan have already done the same. Saudi depends on foreign labour and the government has defended its decision to allow workers to return home. (SOUNDBITE)(English) SAUDI LABOUR MINISTER, MUFAREJ AL-HAQBANI, SAYING: "If we have 10 million foreign workers, 10 million foreign workers not complaining, and we have only 30,000 in one company, this should not be generalised." The labour ministry says it will follow up wage claims and has offered workers free flights home. But most here say at this point they can't afford to leave without their pay.