Indian worker’s tearful plea to leave Saudi Arabia

Screen grab of video by Abdul Sattar Makandar

A video plea by an Indian man has once again prompted discussion about the issue of the working conditions for migrants in Gulf countries - although the facts of the case are heavily disputed.

Abdul Sattar Makandar was hired for a job driving trucks in Saudi Arabia via a recruitment agency in Mumbai. But now two years on, he says he's been denied leave to visit his home in India, and claims the company hasn't always paid him on time.

The company denies the allegations, and the case might have been an unnoticed dispute between employer and employee, had Makandar not taped an emotional video which he sent to an Indian activist, Kundan Srivastava.

After the activist posted it to Facebook, Makandar's tearful plea for help was watched more than one million times.

Under Saudi law, foreign workers can't leave the country without the permission of their employers - just one element of the Gulf system of kafala, which limits the rights of foreign workers.

Several recent cases - including the story of a domestic worker who had her arm chopped off - have prompted debate about working conditions for migrant workers in the Gulf.

James Lynch, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa for Amnesty International, says many workers are fearful of speaking out.

"We have consistently seen migrant workers too scared to speak out because of reprisals from employers, such as refusing to give an exit permit, not paying wages that are due, or cancelling residency permits," Lynch told BBC Trending radio.

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In Makandar's case, his employer, the Al Suroor United Group, strongly denies his story. They say they he was eligible for leave after two years of service and that he's about six weeks short of that milestone. They also say he's been paid on time and even given a bonus, and that he could resign from his job at any time.

The company also responded by posting photos, taken two years ago, of other employees holding signs praising the group:

This migrant worker's sign thanks the company for helping him receive a mechanical engineering qualification. This migrant worker's sign thanks the company for helping him receive a mechanical engineering qualification.

Makandar was recruited by Al Suroor through an Indian agency called Discomb Gulf Travels. Discomb's managing director Riyaz Batey told BBC Trending that they had not been aware that Makandar was unhappy until the video appeared online. He said that the driver should have contacted them for help first. But he added that he had bank statements which showed Makandar had been paid on time.

Makandar has been suspended from his job, and the video also seems to have landed him in jail. Earlier in the week he was detained under a Saudi law that forbids misrepresenting facts on social media.

Srivastava, the activist, took down the video and issued an apology after the company threatened legal action. But he has continued to post about the case and is hoping that Makandar will be allowed to leave Saudi Arabia - the worker's current whereabouts are unclear.

The Indian Embassy in Saudi Arabia did not to BBC Trending's request for a comment.

Reporting by Mai Noman and Anisa Subedar

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