Covid-19: NRI deaths sully Kerala’s Gulf dream

Updated on Jun 26, 2020 03:26 AM IST

Around 296 expatriates from Kerala who have died of Covid-19 in West Asia, according to preliminary information with the state government.

Some families, who can afford it, are paying to keep the bodies in mortuaries, hoping they can be brought back when commercial flights resume.(File photo)
Some families, who can afford it, are paying to keep the bodies in mortuaries, hoping they can be brought back when commercial flights resume.(File photo)
Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram | By

Mohammad Hussein’s family in Kerala was looking forward to his return from Qatar, where he had been working for 20 years, when they received a call in May from a volunteer group working for the benefit of expatriates saying his condition was serious after having contracted Covid-19. A week later the family received photos of Hussein’s burial.

Hussein, 47, is among 296 expatriates from Kerala who have died of Covid-19 in West Asia, according to preliminary information with the state government. Migrant rights activists say the number of deaths could be higher and that many of them could have been prevented had the government shown a sense of urgency in evacuating them.

“He has four children, all younger than 20. With the breadwinner gone, it will be difficult for the family now,” said Mohammad Ashraf, Hussein’s brother.

Some families, who can afford it, are paying to keep the bodies in mortuaries, hoping they can be brought back when commercial flights resume. “My father’s body is in a morgue in Bahrain. And we are paying through our nose. We hope the body can be brought back once the situation improves,” said the daughter of another person, who succumbed to the infection.

As many as 4,56, 431 expatriates wanting to return home registered on the government-run Non-Resident Keralites Affairs department website in April. According to the state government data, over 90,000 have so far been evacuated. But the website says only 55, 905 have returned till June 22. An official said the website has not be updated.

Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Thursday said 98,202 people have returned from abroad to the state. He added 80% of them have flown back from West Asia.

There was much outrage this month after the state made Covid-free certificates mandatory for the returnees. The Kerala government stood its ground until the Centre rejected the condition saying tests were infeasible at Indian embassies at the point of embarkation. The state, until as late as June 18, said it was ready to send kits to test people before they board evacuation flights.

Many of the non-resident Indians from Kerala, an estimated 1.8 million, work in West Asia. Kerala accounted for 19% of the $ 78.6 billion remittances India received in 2019, according to the World Bank data. Kerala’s remittances crossed one lakh crore, the highest in the country, in 2019.

Expatriates have contributed significantly to the state’s economy and stepped in every time Kerala faced natural disasters. They have been praised for their contributions. But many expatriates feel they have been let down badly by both the Centre and state government, which have been busy in a blame game over their evacuations.

Expatriates say many lives could have been saved if people had been evacuated in the early days of the pandemic. “We lost golden hours. Many lives could have been saved if we evacuated them in the early months of the pandemic. Now the state government says expatriates can be super spreaders,” said Reji Kuttappan, a writer and migrant rights activist.

Indian Overseas Congress convenor Mansoor Paloor echoed Kuttappan. “Even chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the state put restrictions on returnees to check super spreaders. His words sent a wrong message.”

Union minister V Muraleedharan, who is from Kerala, said the Centre was ready to provide at least 36 flights daily to the state in May but the local government restricted them to less than 12, saying they do not have facilities to tackle a surge in the number of returnees.

Vijayan denied any laxity on the part of his government and said there was a “concerted move” to make expatriates turn against it. “We never blocked any flights. We took such some decisions to check super spreaders and community spreading. More than 90% of the cases in the state are imported...”

The Congress-led opposition has criticised the government saying it is more interested in maintaining its record of managing the pandemic well and not in the welfare of stranded people and that led to many deaths. “The government could have brought them home and treated here instead of leaving them to die abroad,” said Congress leader Oommen Chandy.

“Expatriates’ contributions are immense. Instead of blame game, both, the state and Centre, will have to alleviate their suffering,” said political observer and columnist G Pramod Kumar.

Get Latest India Newsalong with Latest Newsand Top Headlinesfrom India and around the world.
SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Ramesh Babu is HT’s bureau chief in Kerala, with about three decades of experience in journalism.

SHARE
Story Saved
×
Saved Articles
Following
My Reads
My Offers
Sign out
New Delhi 0C
Wednesday, November 30, 2022
Start 15 Days Free Trial Subscribe Now
Register Free and get Exciting Deals