A total of 7,700 Indians and 8,000 Pakistanis have been stranded, according to tallies provided Tuesday by the foreign ministries in New Delhi and Islamabad. Many were employed by construction companies battered by the downturn in oil prices that began two years ago. Reports suggest that they are without food and water or visas and unable to exit the kingdom after a slowing economy forced companies to cut jobs.

It is sad to see that the worst effects of the changes in the global oil market have not hit the oil producing companies in the Middle East, but only the disenfranchised workers there who are not native and not liable for any support from the Saudi government. It is even more appalling to realise, that such a system exists on purpose. These workers are from the poorest segments of Pakistani, Indian and Bengali society, and their economic desperation causes them to contract into work that does not pay a fair wage, or allow them any other benefits. The Kingdom’s native population is not large enough or poor enough to be employed in this sector. The division of classes, and the ‘othering’ of foreign workers is starkly clear.

Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia sent home $5.97 billion in the last fiscal year ending in June from Saudi Arabia, making the kingdom the top remittance provider to Pakistan, according to data from the State Bank of Pakistan. This means that not only are our citizens’ rights being abused in a foreign country that we are so loth to speak out against, but also that there could be a potential for the remittance flow to tighten as Middle Eastern economies contract.

Pakistan exported about 1 million workers worldwide in 2015, more than half of them to Saudi Arabia, according to Foreign Ministry spokesman Nafees Zakaria. A total of 1.8 million Pakistanis are employed in the kingdom. He, along with a few friends went to the Pakistani embassy in Jeddah a month ago. “When we were done informing them of our grievances, the officer there told us that no one had asked us to work in Saudi Arabia.” This is no excuse. Do the officials of the kingdom want to say that they are okay with Pakistanis starving in their country?