Abdul Sattar Makandar is a 35-year-old father of four from India. A little less than two years ago, he was recruited to work in Saudi Arabia as a driver, joining the enormous number of South Asian migrants who head to the Middle East's Gulf states for employment.
Last week, a tearful video from Makandar went viral in India and elsewhere. In the video, posted to Facebook by New Delhi-based activist Kundan Srivastava, Makandar cried as he said that his employer was preventing him from traveling home to India.
"My employer doesn't give me proper salary and does not give me money for food," Makander said in the video.
The footage swiftly sparked an outcry in India. Over the past few years there have been a number of controversial cases of alleged abuse of South Asian workers in the Gulf states. Last year, an Indian domestic worker reportedly had her hand cut off by her Saudi employer, prompting condemnation from India's minister of external affairs and the eventual repatriation of the worker.
However, Makandar's video has caused only more problems for him so far.
Srivastava, the activist who posted the video, said that the truck driver was arrested by Saudi authorities Monday shortly after the video spread and accused of the "spread of misinformation," a criminal act in Saudi Arabia. Srivastava said that he was then contacted by Makandar's employer and told to remove the original video and replace it with an apology, which he did.
The company Makandar works for, Al Suroor United Group, has denied the accusations against it, saying that their employees are free to resign if they wish and that the company has been paying Makandar. A representative for the recruitment agency that found Makandar his position also told the BBC that he was being paid on time.
Srivastava said that the apology did get Makandar released — but the truck driver was swiftly rearrested the next morning on unknown charges. Makandar's mother has also failed in her attempts to contact her son, the Hindu reported. “The last I spoke to him was five days ago, his friends informed me he is in prison,” she told the Indian newspaper.
Srivastava is now appealing for help from India's minister of external affairs, Sushma Swaraj, but said that he has not received a response. Makandar "is still under arrest and no government is helping me," he said in an email, adding that messages he received from Makandar suggest the migrant worker thinks his life is in danger.
Saudi Arabia is one of a number of oil-rich Gulf states that have relied on foreign workers for decades. Indian government figures suggest that there were over 2.8 million Indians living in Saudi Arabia last year. Many are attracted by the possibilities of relatively good wages for unskilled labor, but activists say that migrant workers in Saudi Arabia can be exploited under the country's visa sponsorship system, known as kafala.
Saudi Arabia implemented a number of reforms to the system last year, and in 2014 the government set up a website to inform migrant workers of their rights. A request for comment on Makandar's case was not immediately returned by the Saudi ministry of culture and information.
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