Other States

Coronavirus: Migrants’ homecoming seen with suspicion in Odisha

Migrant labourers forced to live in plastic tents before being allowed to enter villages in Odisha.

Migrant labourers forced to live in plastic tents before being allowed to enter villages in Odisha.  

Workers made to stay outside, undergo tests before allowed to enter villages

Tapan Kumar Nayak, Inspector at the Rajnagar police station under Odisha’s Kendrapara district, has been receiving frantic calls of late. Callers often complain about their neighbours either roaming outside their homes or sneezing and coughing.

The calls, however, do not surprise Mr. Nayak. He looks after the law and order situation in Rajnagar, where the concentration of migrant labourers is perhaps one of the densest in the country.

Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic made headlines, the migrant labourers’ homecomings have been seen with suspicion and the police officer’s primary role has been not to let the skepticism assume the shape of ostracisation. The tiny block has so far received 52 migrant labourers from abroad and 566 from other States.

Pattamundai, the adjacent block which sends plumbers to almost all corners of India and several foreign countries, has been witnessing an identical situation. The administration is now on its toes to make home isolation smoother for migrant workers.

‘Restraint advised’

“Police personnel in four vehicles do regular patrolling to ensure that those who are under home quarantine are not threatened. At the same time, we also advise migrant workers to adopt restraint and not put others lives in danger by coming out of their homes,” said Mr. Nayak.

Hundreds of kilometres away in the western Odisha district of Kalahandi, 12 migrant workers who returned from Kerala had to stay under polythene sheet for several days before being allowed in their village.

In Sinapali block of Nuapada district, the migrant labourers were made to undergo medical tests and only after that they could enter their villages.

As 82,000 migrant workers have already landed in their respective villages and fellow villagers are insisting on their self-quarantine, the situation in remote villages may become chaotic in the coming days.

“Everybody is scared. Villagers are aware of the threat COVID-19 poses. In the absence of proper education about what self-quarantine means, migrant labourers have to bear the brunt and are often subjected to humiliation,” said Umi Daniel, a prominent expert on migration issues.

Mr. Daniel said a unique initiative called telephone-based virtual community volunteers has been initiated to reach out to people in the migration-prone areas.

“We have started enrolling volunteers to clear confusion on the ground. Many educated people are now at home. We will rope them in so that they could pass on the right kind of message to their own community members,” he said.

Purpose defeated

In villagers, many thatched houses are either one-room or two-room without functional individual latrines. The home quarantine insisted by government loses its significance when family members have to be crammed in a small house. To address some practical issues, virtual volunteers are targeting 50 panchayats in Balangir, Bargarh, Kalahandi, Nuapada and Subarnapur districts for spreading awareness on COVID-19 threat and managing their lives.

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Printable version | May 29, 2020 7:24:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/migrants-homecoming-seen-with-suspicion/article31187572.ece

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