Does MEA Not Know How Many Indians Abroad Died Due To COVID-19?
V Muraleedharan, MoS, External Affairs

Does MEA Not Know How Many Indians Abroad Died Due To COVID-19?

While MEA Says 373 Deaths, RTI documents reveal that the numbers are much higher

Only 373 Indians died due to COVID-19 in foreign countries – this is according to V Muraleedharan, Minister of State in the Ministry of External Affairs, as stated in Parliament on Monday.

But The Lede has found that Muraleedharan has not got his facts right.

Here’s the whole reply by the MoS in Parliament on September 21:

“As per details available with the Indian Missions, the total number of Indian citizens abroad infected with coronavirus stood at 11,616, as on 10 September 2020. Of these, 373 Indians lost their lives due to COVID-19,” the minister stated, placing a document of country-wise death numbers.

The document placed in Parliament reports that there were no COVID-19 deaths in Kuwait and only four Indians died due to COVID-19 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Document placed before Parliament pg 1
Document placed before Parliament pg 1
Document placed before Parliament pg 2
Document placed before Parliament pg 2

But an RTI reply seen by this correspondent reveals that between February 01 and June 30, in UAE, 175 Indians had died due to COVID-19.

UAE RTI reply
UAE RTI reply

And in Kuwait between February 01 and May 30, 68 Indians died due to COVID-19.

Kuwait RTI reply pg 1
Kuwait RTI reply pg 1
Kuwait RTI reply pg 2
Kuwait RTI reply pg 2

These two figures alone tally up to 243 deaths.

Commenting on the misinformation, Bheem Reddy Mandha, President of Emigrants Welfare Forum in Hyderabad, said that this data mismatch is shocking.

“Who is preparing this data. How can an RTI reply and document placed in Parliament differ? Which one should we believe? How is this happening? This reveals how much does the Indian government cares for its citizen abroad,” Reddy told The Lede.

“The Ministry of External Affairs should answer for this mismatch,” he said.

Muraleedharan’s reply came in the wake of MP Adoor Prakash’s question to the Minister of External Affairs on “whether the government has data of Indian citizens abroad who got infected with COVID-19 and if so, the details thereof, country-wise.”

He had also asked the Minister of External Affairs to state “the number of Indians who lost their lives in foreign countries due to COVID-19 and the details of the same, country-wise; and, the details of measures taken by the Indian missions in extending necessary help to the COVID-19 affected Indians abroad.”

Compensating Deaths

According to migrants rights activist Bheem Reddy, the Indian government should also talk to Arab Gulf countries to advise their employers to see COVID-19 deaths as workplace deaths.

Reddy’s reasoning is that migrant workers had been infected as they were on duty and not given proper care, so, the onus is on the employer.

“These deaths should be considered under insurance claims. I know many families who have lost their sole breadwinner due to the COVID-19 outbreak in the Arab Gulf. The families not even have seen the mortal remains,” Reddy added.

Surprisingly, to a question asked in the RTI, whether the UAE local government is keeping the Indian embassy informed of Indians’ deaths due to COVID-19, the embassy replied that “usually, local authorities do not share any such information.”

“However, the Consulate has received one such information from the local authorities of an Indian’s death due to COVID-19 when the body was lying in the mortuary,” the RTI reply adds.

When Indians die due to COVID-19 in Arab Gulf countries, as per the pandemic protocol the mortal remains are buried there.

Only the bodies of those who died of other causes are transported to India.

In a reply to Parliament on the details of measures taken by the Indian missions in extending necessary help to the COVID-19 affected Indians abroad, V Muraleedharan said that “Indian Missions arranged for the welfare of Indian nationals, where required, including through Indian community associations.”

“In some cases, arrangements were also made for boarding and lodging and emergency medical assistance. The total expenditure incurred by Missions in assisting Indian nationals in distress from the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) was close to Rs. 22.5 Crores,” the reply added.

Commenting on the expense, Lateefh Thechy, a social activist in Saudi Arabia, said that “when the MEA says that the Missions have spent around Rs 22.5 crore for Indians, we have experienced that the help was little.

We didn’t even get ambulance services to transport COVID-19 patients. We struggled a lot. We know cases of people who took shelter in abandoned cars and kitchens as they were not getting isolation wards. COVID-19 help from mission houses was little,” Thechy added.

Meanwhile, an Indian worker who returned due to job loss from Kuwait told The Lede that he did not receive any help from the Indian embassy.

“I tried to get some assistance in repatriation from the Indian embassy. But they didn’t respond positively. I did not have proper shelter either. Finally, I came back in a chartered flight arranged by a charity organisation,” the Indian worker, who is back in Kerala, said.

There are around 90 lakh Indians working in the Arab Gulf countries including Jordan and Lebanon. Many have returned to India when the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak happened in the Arab Gulf.

Kerala government data reveals that around 1.6 lakh had returned after job loss.

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