Kerala expects an influx of at least 100,000 migrants mainly from the Gulf, post lockdown.

How Kerala plans to handle mass influx of NRIs post lockdown
Coronavirus Coronavirus Wednesday, April 15, 2020 - 08:47

The Kerala government, which has had some success in ‘flattening the COVID-19 curve’,  is now devising an exit strategy for when the nationwide lockdown is withdrawn. The state is drawing up plans to exit the lockdown in a phased manner. However, Kerala’s biggest challenge will be the mass influx of Non-Resident Keralites (NRKs) — particularly, Gulf Malayalees— in the period post-lockdown.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant global economic recession will leave lakhs of people furloughed or jobless in the coming months. In this bleak scenario, Kerala, which has a sizable chunk of Gulf migrants, expects hundreds of thousands of its expats to return home enmasse, once the lockdown is lifted.

In its first course of action, the state is planning to quarantine lakhs of foreign returnees simultaneously to ensure that another wave of infections do not crop up, and that its curve continues to remain flat. 

“Currently, we have had some success in containing the spread. However, we are expecting large scale migration — Malayalees from outside, which will change this situation totally. We think a minimum of 100,000 people would fly in to Kerala (post lockdown). It could go up to even 300,000 or 400,000 people, particularly from the Gulf. We cannot rule out this possibility,” Minister Thomas Isaac told CNBC’s Shereen Bhan. 

To quarantine the arriving non-residents, the state has identified close to 2.5 lakh rooms in various districts, which will be converted to COVID-19 quarantine centres. Rooms in hostels, hotels, sundry public buildings and even private houses and flats which are vacant have been identified for this purpose, Isaac added. 

“We are now preparing to set up beds and other facilities so that migrants who are flying in can remain quarantined here up to the time specified by the Health Department,” he confirmed. 

Based on 2018 data released by NORKA (Department of Non-Resident Keralites Affairs) and reported by TNIE, nearly 19 lakh Keralites live and work in Gulf countries. Of this, 40% live in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), with the others spread across Saudia Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain. 

Malayalee presence is also strong in countries such as the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Singapore, Malaysia, Maldives, etc. Most of these countries, especially the USA and UK, have reported thousands of COVID-19 cases and deaths. 

Expressing concern for these non-residents, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, in his press meet on Monday, said that the state government was attempting to bring back those stuck in foreign countries during the lockdown, as well as arrange facilities for non-residents returning home post the lockdown.

“There are also people who went on business, who went on tourist visas and for many other reasons. Due to the lockdown, they are unable to return home. With no income, life becomes impossible (for them) there. We are trying to bring them back home as soon as possible. Their families also want them back home. We have asked the Centre for special flights to be arranged for these people. We will bring them home following all international health guidelines,” the Chief Minister added. 

Pinarayi said that the state was in talks with the Centre on facilities to be arranged for migrants who return home to India, due to the pandemic. 

“For those who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic, we have requested the Centre to draft policies to protect and rehabilitate them upon their return to India. All arrangements for their safety also have to be made,” he assured.

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