Desperate migrants keen to return home

They don’t find much work due to extended lockdown and impending monsoon

Published - May 22, 2020 12:12 am IST - KOCHI

A group of migrant workers living at Pukattupady here have been trying to hire a private bus that can take them home to Murshidabad, West Bengal, over 2,000 km away.

Bapirul Islam, one of the 30 workers looking to hire the bus, says he is unsure of being able to get on a train. “This is not a question of just a few hundred people. There are so many of us. Even if there are trains, when will we be able to take them?” he asks.

Before the lockdown was announced, Bapirul did plastering work at construction sites at a daily wage of ₹500. While he had heard that construction work would resume, he had not been able to find work yet. The landlord had been asking workers to pay rent—₹800 per person—and electricity bill. But they have been trying to save all they could to pay the exorbitant fare for a journey home on a private bus. It could cost them over ₹7,000 per person, he says. He has been trying to borrow from multiple people back home to gather money for the purpose.

Riyadul Islam, a mason, who also hopes to take a bus, says the workers are unsure of the protocol to be followed or the passes they need to make the journey. He adds that they have been trying to obtain medical certificates without which they cannot enter their district.

The National Health Mission issues certificates after thermal scanning to migrant workers travelling home. “People are desperate to go home. The lockdown has been extended, and the monsoon is ahead, so there might not be much work for footloose workers. They are emotionally and financially drained,” says Benoy Peter, executive director, Centre for Migration and Inclusive Development. “We have heard of people looking to hire buses, but we are discouraging them. The fuel cost will be enormous. They will have to shell out critical money that they will have to use for the next few months. Instead, they will have to spend that on travel,” he adds. The West Bengal government has decided to pay train fare for migrant workers returning to the State.

Community kitchens have also been slowly winding up. The kitchens run by the Perumbavoor Municipality and the Vazhakkulam Panchayat, mostly for migrant workers, had been closed down earlier this month, according to officials.

Meanwhile, the next train to Murshidabad from Aluva is tentatively scheduled for May 24. Nearly 10,600 migrant workers had returned to various States from Ernakulam, according to Sub Collector Snehil Kumar Singh. The Labour Department has identified 60,145 migrant workers in the district.

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