05/02/2020, 16.56
INDIA
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More than 350,000 Keralites waiting to come home after restrictions are lifted

by Biju Veticad

The lockdown was set to end on 4 May, but India’s central government extended it by another two weeks. The Kerala government has prepared ships as well as military and commercial planes for repatriation. Many migrant workers in the Gulf are suffering from the economic crisis that followed the collapse of oil prices. Returnees will be quarantined at government facilities.

Thiruvananthapuram (AsiaNews) – More than 350,000 Keralites are waiting to come home as soon as India’s central government lifts its lockdown. The latter was imposed on the whole country on 24 March and was set to end on 4 May, but the authorities extended it for two more weeks with regional variations according to colour-coded – red, orange and green – zones.

Under the lockdown all domestic flights were cancelled; international flights had already been suspended on 22 March. Since then, the Kerala state government has implemented a successful containment plan, and set out to draft a strategy for repatriating its citizens from abroad, especially from the Persian Gulf. Within 72 hours, the government portal recorded 353,000 applications worldwide for resettlement.

The government’s plan involves a major operation, with Navy ships as well as military and commercial planes, designed to evacuate thousands of Indians stranded in the Gulf area and other regions of the world.

The authorities have already reached out to states to make the necessary arrangements for people when they arrive home. Hotels and other facilities are being equipped to accommodate returnees for a 14-day quarantine period. Not everyone will be able to be in quarantine at home.

Priority will be given to pregnant women, people with diseases other than COVID-19, students, those whose work or tourist visas have expired, and those who have lost their jobs and no longer have any money to support themselves after more than a month of lockdown.

Of all Indian states, Kerala has the largest number of migrants abroad. The Department of Non-Resident Keralite Affairs (NORKA) has launched registration drive for those who want to come home.

As of Thursday, some 353,000 Keralites in 203 nations have registered, including 153,660 in the Emirates and 50,000 in Saudi Arabia.

Once home, their problems will not be over. At least, 56,114 have lost their job and they will not have many job opportunities in the post-lockdown period.

It is estimated that out of 4 million Keralites who live abroad, at least 500,000 will opt to return in the coming months. To these must be added 94,000 people - including many students - who want to return to Kerala from other Indian states.

At least 28 million Indians live abroad; 8 million live in the Gulf states. The latter have been affected not only by the coronavirus crisis, but also by the economic crisis resulting from the slump in oil prices.

Repatriation will begin as soon as the lockdown is lifted. Government sources told AsiaNews that Gulf migrants are the top priority, followed by those in Europe and then the rest of the world.

A few days ago, some lawmakers held a sit-in in order to push the government to speed up the repatriation of Keralites (picture 2).

So far India has reported 26,167 coronavirus cases with 1,218 deaths. Some 9,950 people have recovered.

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