In what is possibly the largest reverse migration yet to the State, lakhs of people have returned in the past year, a majority from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, and several will vote in the upcoming Assembly elections.
As per figures from NoRKA-Roots, 12,32,905 people have returned to the State in a year till March 21. The highest number of returnees (7,17,015) is from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
“The State is seeing this sort of mass reverse migration for the first time, largely due to loss of employment,” says Harikrishnan Namboothiri, CEO, NoRKA-Roots.
In the past year, the government offered financial assistance of ₹5,000 each to 1,22,000 people who returned to the State. Under a project for returned emigrants to set up their own businesses, ₹14 crore was provided as subsidy on capital or interest for 712 ventures. A sum of ₹10,000 each was also provided to 433 NoRKS who tested positive for COVID-19.
Several returnees are in limbo — work here is hard to find and moving abroad looks like an unattainable prospect. Subair T.M., a Thalassery native, returned from Ajman in the UAE five months ago after having worked in the country for nearly 40 years as a driver and at a grocery store. He is struggling to cobble together money for daily expenses and to pay off a home loan. He would like to return to the UAE but has so far spotted job vacancies only for relatively younger people.
Others have made a fresh start here and are back for the long haul. A 50-year-old Kochi resident who returned from Dubai in March last year, after having lost his job, is now running a fish delivery business, a collaborative effort of nearly 30 returnees.
‘Not all workers’
S. Irudaya Rajan, professor at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, says the total figure with NoRKA records the total arrivals to Kerala, and all of them are not necessarily migrant workers.
“People have already started returning to the Gulf. At least one-third of the people who were evacuated might be able to go back abroad in the next six to eight months. But there will be a set of distress returnees. The government will have to support them,” he says. “More return migrants will vote in the elections this time, and their votes could play a major role in some localities. But, here that vote bank has not been captured,” he says.