Kerala gets ready for 200,000 expat workers
Kerala is preparing for the return of at least two lakh expatriates, mainly blue-collar workers, from West Asia by creating quarantine facilities for them even as the state has reported a slump in the Covid-19 cases while they mount across the country. Officials said it will be a huge challenge given over half of the total Covid-19 cases in Kerala have been traced to those who had returned from the region.
Kerala on Saturday reported four cases that took the state’s Covid-19 tally to 399 while at least seven patients were discharged from hospitals. The number of people under observation in the state is now down to 67, the state health department said.
The state expects the expatriates to return in batches after the extended lockdown imposed to check the Covid-19 spread ends on May 3. They will be lodged in quarantine homes before they will be allowed to return to their homes only when it is confirmed that they have not contracted the disease, the officials cited above said.
Many Covid-19 quarantine centres have come up near international airports in the state. But the officials said they are not sufficient and vacant flats, houses and houseboats were being considered for quarantining them. Work is in progressing in Alapuzha to convert houseboats into quarantine homes and makeshift Covid-19 hospitals.
Around half of the two million people from Kerala working in West Asia live in the United Arab Emirates, which has threatened to impose restrictions on workers from the countries that refuse to take back their citizens from the country.
“Kerala is really indebted to its expatriate population for its development and progress. We will try our best to bring them back. We know they are going through distressing times. We are with them. Once they return, we will screen and quarantine them,” said chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan. He has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi twice seeking his intervention in bringing the expatriates back.
Irudaya Rajan, a migration expert at Thiruvananthapuram’s Centre for Development Studies, said the state faces three issues of retaining migrant workers from other parts of India, return of the expatriates from West Asia and the remittances that will go down. “It has to do a fine balancing act. Migration is there in the DNA of Keralites. If not the Gulf, they will find another place. But at least six months, it has to struggle,” said Rajan.
In 2018-19 alone, remittances from expatriates amounted to Rs 88,000 crore. Kerala’s Gross State Domestic Product that year was ₹7,72,894 crore.
K C Sajith, a Non-Resident Indian from Kerala in Bahrain, said many countries have evacuated their people from West Asia. “We know India’s numbers are large. But at least the country could have airlifted patients and pregnant women who are stranded. Some of us really feel we are in no man’s land. We hope post-lockdown, it [evacuation] will be expedited,” he said.