Depriving returning non-resident Keralites of institutional quarantine facilities is discrimination, said Minister of State for External Affairs, V Muraleedharan, speaking exclusively to The Lede.
The central minister was responding to a Kerala government order dated June 17.
The order states that overseas returnees are “a lot different” from migrant workers from other states and therefore “no protection can be given to the overseas returnees as given to ‘Migrant Workers’ as specified in the Apex Court’s May order,” the Kerala government order reads.
The Kerala government issued the order as a follow up to Public Interest Litigation filed in the Kerala High Court which challenged the alleged withdrawal of free institutional quarantine for Keralites returning from abroad.
The petition was termed premature and dismissed by the court, however, the court told the government to examine whether the Keralites returning from abroad are ‘Migrant Workers’ or not.
The order was issued as a result of this direction.
“Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan’s double standards have been exposed once again. First, the Kerala CM sought certificates (COVID free certificates before boarding the aircraft) and now he is shirking the responsibility of their well-being. This is a shame,” MoS Muraleedharan added.
Meanwhile, a NORKA official said that those who cannot afford institutional quarantine can be provided with the same. The Kerala government had issued the order through NORKA.
NORKA is a government body set up in 1996 for the welfare of non-resident Keralites both in India and outside the country.
“We have provided the facilities like arranging transportation and funding them for their return for all interstate migrants. We were asked by the court why we can’t give the facilities provided for the interstate migrants to NRKs too. NRKs don’t come under state subjects. It is all decided by the central government. We feel that the term Migrant Worker used in our order has been interpreted wrongly,” Salim Mankuzhy, press officer of NORKA said.
A “migrant worker” is defined by the International Labour Organization (ILO) as a person who migrates from one country to another (or who has migrated from one country to another) to be employed other than on his account, and includes any person regularly admitted as a migrant for employment.
Meanwhile, Keralites in Arab Gulf countries expressed their anger while responding to the Kerala government order.
Saji Vettikkalil Uthuppan, a Keralite in Oman, said that from day one, the Kerala government has ignored NRKs’ woes.
“99% of the Keralites in Arab Gulf countries are migrant workers. Only a few are businessmen. I see them struggling to make both ends meet. They are stranded literally on the streets. The majority have lost their job and will be returning empty-handed. And when they return empty-handed, isn’t it a crime not to provide them free quarantine?” Saji asked.
“Additionally, how can they say we low paid workers here in Arab countries are not migrant workers. This is weird,” he added.
There are around 25 lakh Keralites in all six Gulf countries together.
Anil K, a Keralite in Saudi Arabia, asked why is he not considered as a migrant worker.
“I am a mason here. I earn around Rs 20,000 only. Due to COVID-19, I am not getting a salary since March. Before that also, there was a two-month backlog in pay. In all, I have to get five months’ pending salary. I know that I am not going to get it. I am may get a seat in a chartered flight soon. I will come back. But this time, empty-handed. How can Kerala government say that I am not a migrant worker and cannot be protected?” Anil asked.
Haneefa M, a Keralite in Bahrain, said that NORKA is a waste of taxpayers’ money and it has to be disbanded.
“It has not done anything for the welfare of Keralites. It is just throwing away money in the name of Keralites abroad. I read in the newspaper that they spent some Rs 13 lakh to set up a job portal and had spent Rs 2 crore for the renovation of facilities. This entire NORKA should be disbanded,” Haneefa added.
Some four lakh Keralites had registered with NORKA expressing their willingness to return home. And out of that, some 60,000 had declared that they have lost their jobs too.
Meanwhile, a few social organisations claimed that some 230 plus Keralites have died due to COVID-19 in the Arab Gulf.
“Additionally, a few dozen have died due to heart attacks, high blood pressure, and acute diabetes. All these diseases have worsened only due to the mental stress they are undergoing,” Lateefh Thechy, a social worker from Saudi Arabia, said.
Meanwhile, Roy Mathew, a senior journalist in Kerala, told The Lede that Pinarayi government is losing its sheen in the NRKs’ issue.
“They have erred a lot. It’s going to cost them a lot. They have proved that they are not committed to NRKs’ welfare,” Roy added.