Madurai

No income now and future uncertain for these people

Life at the Sri Lankan refugee camp in Koodal Nagar is gloomy

The Sri Lankan refugee camp in Koodal Nagar remains barricaded since April 26 after a 36 year-old man there tested positive for COVID-19.

K. Karthik, 37, who has been living in the camp with his family since 1990, says, “I know we need to remain at home to prevent the spread of the pandemic. We’ve been adequately briefed about the containment zone process and now we’ve accustomed to it.”

There are around 320 families in the camp. Mr. Karthik says that although they have all gone through the ordeal of escaping from their country and seeking refuge in India, living through a pandemic is unnerving too. “But with the help of officials and kind-hearted people, we stay afloat,” he says.

“Health workers check us for symptoms and spray disinfectants every day. Police monitor our activities through drone cameras and the Corporation ensures our vegetable supply. No one else is allowed to enter the camp without permission. Some politicians and locals give dry rations. These kind gestures are of real help,” he says.

However, all the free time they have in their hands has made them wonder about an income-less present and an uncertain future.

T. Silandhiran, a painter, says most of the Sri Lankan Tamil refugees are daily wagers. They work as painters, construction workers and linesmen. So they have little money to save.

“With the extension of the lockdown, we can’t afford the ₹100-bag of vegetables that the Corporation distributes through mobile vans. I have to find a neighbour who will split the cost,” he says. Getting a job was difficult even before COVID-19 pandemic, Mr. Silandhiran says. “Some employers would take pity on us and give us menial work because hoteliers and big companies would not hire us because of our Sri Lankan lineage. Now we wonder whether we can get our jobs back,” he says.

Literate daily wagers

A. Jayanthini, who has completed B.Sc in Information Technology, says most of the graduates at the refugee camps work for daily wages only.

“People with MBA, MCA and B.Tech degrees do painting and digging trenches for laying electrical lines. Post COVID-19, there will be pay cuts and fewer days of work too. With the ₹2,000-allowance from the State government, we must manage our daily expenses, medicines and groceries,” she says.

Mr. Silandhiran says they watch TV all day to divert their worries. Since the houses are located very close to each other, afternoon matinees playing on popular channels blare behind all doors. “We will be grateful if we get free groceries, vegetables and fruits,” he says.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 10:32:24 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Madurai/no-income-now-and-future-uncertain-for-these-people/article31469043.ece

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