Broke, Unemployed & In Debt: Yet Telangana’s Gulf Returnees Forced To Shell Out For Quarantine
Telangana migrant workers from COVID-19 hit Arab Gulf countries had paid around Rs 40 crore for airfare and Rs 10 crore for quarantine, a migrant rights activist has claimed.
As per official figures, till August, 46,488 passengers arrived in Hyderabad airport by 285 flights from 30 countries through Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) and chartered flights. The VBM had started repatriation of stranded Indians from COVID-19-hit countries from 07 May 2020.
“Out of the 46,488, I can say that around 20,000 migrant workers came from the six Arab Gulf countries. In that 20,000, only 5353 were given government-sponsored free quarantine,” Mandha Bheem Reddy, president of Emigrants Welfare Forum, told The Lede.
“This means that some 15,000 were forced to go for seven-day paid quarantine in private hotels listed by the Telangana Tourism Development Corporation. And every migrant had to pay around Rs 7000 for quarantine in all for seven days quarantine, which is around Rs 10 crore,” Reddy added.
According to Reddy, a migrant worker had to shell out around Rs 20,000 for any VBM flight to land in Hyderabad, which means that some 20,000 migrants paid around Rs 40 crore to reach home from COVID-19 hit Arab Gulf countries.
“Still, this paid quarantine is mandatory. Telangana should allow returning migrant workers to go for home quarantine like Kerala and other states do. Migrant workers are returning due to job loss. They are coming back after giving up their unpaid wages and end of service benefits. Forcing them to go for paid quarantine in inhumane,” Reddy added.
Meanwhile, talking to The Lede, Jakkula Thirupathi, who is now in a paid quarantine centre said that he has returned empty-handed and does not have a single penny to pay the hotel rent.
“Here the hotel charge is Rs 8000 per night. I don’t have that much money to pay. I have to vacate on August 16. I don’t know where can I raise the money to clear the hotel bill. I am pleading with the Telangana chief minister to help me and others who are in the same situation,” Thirupathi said.
Thirupathi had gone to Dubai on a ‘free visa’ to work as a driver after paying Rs 2 lakh to an agent two years ago.
A free visa is a visa that grants freedom for a migrant worker to work anywhere. Legally, there is no free visa. However, employers take money from the migrant worker and grant him freedom. Under the Kafala system, the employer-employee job contract, a worker is supposed to work under the employer who has provided him the job visa.
There are around 35 million migrant workers in the Arab Gulf countries who work under the Kafala system, a peculiar employer-employee contract which restricts many rights and freedom of migrant workers. Out of this number, nearly nine million are Indians.
And among the 90 lakh Indian workforce in the Arab Gulf, Telangana has a large share of about 15 lakh, which is about 12%. And the state is receiving Rs 6300 crore in remittances each year.
“Unfortunately, I didn’t get the driver job. I then moved to the construction sector. I worked as labour there illegally. I didn’t earn much. But I had to stay back because of financial liabilities back home,” Thirupathi said.
And adding to his woes like many others, the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak forced the employers to stop their operations since February.
“I was stranded without food and shelter. I had to take shelter in my friends’ room. There was no social distancing, masks, and sanitisers. Luckily, I didn’t get infected. There was no other option other than returning. I registered in the VBM and waited for my turn. Even the ticket was bought for me by a charity group,” Thirupathi added.
“I have returned in such a pathetic condition. How can I afford this hotel bill? There are hundreds like me caught in the same situation,” Thirupathi added.
Meanwhile, Laxmi, Thirupathi’s wife, has sent a plea (a copy in possession with The Lede) to the Telangana chief minister K Chandrasekhar Rao seeking help.
“He went for a job. He couldn’t get it. We have not cleared the loan taken for the recruitment fee. Children aged, 11 and 8, are also struggling for daily food and online school expenses. I plead with the government to help us in this situation,” Laxmi said.
The latest ILO estimates show that working hour losses have worsened during the first half of 2020, reflecting the deteriorating situation in recent weeks, especially in developing countries.
The ILO report reveals that during the first quarter of the year, an estimated 5.4% of global working hours (equivalent to 155 million full-time jobs) were lost relative to the fourth quarter of 2019.
“Working hour losses for the second quarter of 2020 relative to the last quarter of 2019 are estimated to reach 14.0 per cent worldwide (equivalent to 400 million full-time jobs),” the report adds.