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'The Matloobs'

On November 24, 2019

They call themselves 'the Matloobs.'

Bheem Reddy, a migrant rights activist, says at one point the Whatsapp Group of the same name had 30 members, all either still in Saudi Arabia or recently returned. Matloob means 'wanted' in Arabic. But in their version of pidgin Arabic, it means those accused falsely of a crime.

In the case of Godhurisami and Rajeshwar, that crime was stealing camels. Godhurisami (36) went to Saudi in 2014 to work as a driver. But instead, he was taken to a place near Unaizah, 400kms from Riyadh, to work as a camel herder. For 10 months he was trapped on the farm, isolated from any form of civilisation – just him and 75 camels. His request to go back home fell on deaf ears. Finally, another farmer from a nearby area helped him escape to Riyadh.

For three years he ran around looking for freelance jobs and attempting to return home. Last year, he was caught in a police raid and jailed for over a year. His sponsor (kafeel) had filed a case against him, accusing him of stealing camels. It was the kafeel’s word against his.

He does not recall the name of the prison, only that it was outside Riyadh.

There, he and other prisoners received one roti meal and one rice meal and went to sleep on a hungry stomach most nights. The prison was crowded, two to a bunk bed, 24 to a small room.

Once a month they received an injection, which he guesses may have been for infectious diseases. Embassy officials visited periodically, but no help was extended. The prison officials turned a blind eye to the many fights and abuses amongst the prisoners.

Finally, on Eid al Adha, he received a royal pardon and was able to return home. His family sent him money for the tickets.

Rajeshwar (50) knew he was going to work on a farm, but had no idea what the conditions would be like. He worked in an area called Rafa near Riyadh in 2012. Gruelling heat, no proper shelter, no salary and frequently beaten up by his employer, Rajesjwar managed to escape after a year.

For four years, he got by without his passport or documents, depending on his daily wage earnings in various small companies. Earlier this year he was caught by the police and found himself facing criminal charges. His employer had also accused him of stealing camels.

He was imprisoned in a jail near Riyadh. There were 300 to 400 prisoners in a long hall, and they were served very little food. He says they had no idea what matloob meant until they ended up in jail. He says he took the help of a ‘broker’ to pay a bribe of SR1000 and get out of jail in three months.