Telangana isolation fee hits migrants returning from Gulf nations
Coronavirus quarantine charges levied by the Telangana government on migrant workers who are being flown home from Gulf nations will drive many returnees further into debt and put them at risk of destitution, campaigners and labourers said on Wednesday.
India in May began a drive to repatriate nearly a million citizens from around the world as the pandemic left many jobless and struggling to survive. The arrivals are quarantined in hotels, college hostels or empty houses for about a week.
Most have returned from the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, government data shows.
Telangana is charging at least Rs 8,000 to put its returning citizens in quarantine at hotels for a week, raising concern among former Gulf workers who have large debts, little savings and few job prospects at home.
Mahender Deepkonda, who lost his security guard job in Qatar in March, said he had to take out a fresh loan to pay for a flight home in May and was falling ever deeper into debt.
“The cycle (of repayment) is broken. My outstanding loan amount has gone up by three times,” said Deepkonda, 38, who paid Rs 15,000 for a two-week hotel quarantine before Telangana reduced the fee and period in May as per central guidelines.
“I earn Rs 500 as daily wages for farm labour in my village,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Jagtial. “I don’t know when I will be able to repay this loan.”
Arvinder Singh, Telangana deputy secretary for non-resident Indian affairs, said returning workers were charged for travel and quarantine “as per the government of India guidelines”.
The official declined to give further details, and did not specify how many returnees had been charged for quarantine. An estimated 9 million Indian migrants work in the Gulf states with most of them in low-and semi-skilled jobs, the United Nations International Labour Organization says.
About 500,000 overseas citizens have returned home since May, either flown or sailed home by the government or put on chartered flights sponsored by companies and community groups.
Kerala has received the most arrivals of all Indian states — with at least 135,000 people from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar alone, according to government data — yet the state has not imposed a quarantine fee on its returnees.