Around 1.65 lakh Keralites have returned from COVID-19 hit foreign countries between May 07 and August 18, reveals data shared by NORKA exclusively with The Lede.
Non-Resident Keralites Affairs (NORKA) is the Kerala government agency set up for the welfare of non-resident Keralites.
According to the data shared by NORKA, 3,00,021 Keralites have arrived since May 07 by sea and air from COVID-19 hit countries, and out of that 1,65,891 have returned due to job loss, which is more than 50%.
Unofficial estimates reveal that around 30 lakh Keralites are working in foreign countries and out of that, 25 lakh are in the six Arab Gulf countries.
Due to COVID-19 induced lockdowns and the oil price crash, businesses all over the world were either forced to halt or stop their operations, which forced workers to either quit and return to home countries or stay back in camps hoping for recovery.
Oil driven economies, like the Arab Gulf countries, are more badly hit than any others due to COVID-19 spread and market crisis.
S&P Global Ratings had said recently that it expected the Arab Gulf countries’ government debt to increase by a record high of about $100 billion this year, as funding needs spike due to the COVID-19 crisis and low oil prices.
The ratings agency estimates that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries will register an aggregate central government deficit of about $180 billion, to be financed with $100 billion of debt and $80 billion draw-down in government assets.
It based forecasts on an average Brent oil price of $30 per barrel for the rest of 2020, $50 in 2021, and $55 from 2022.
All these figures hint that migrant workers’ jobs are at risk in the Arab Gulf countries, where the majority of Keralites work.
The International Labour Organisation has said in June that the latest ILO estimates show that working hour losses have worsened during the first half of 2020, reflecting the deteriorating situation, especially in developing countries.
During the first quarter of the year, 155 million full-time jobs were lost relative to the fourth quarter of 2019. And in the second quarter of 2020, the job loss is 400 million.
On July 01, the Kerala government rolled out a ”Dream Kerala Project” to tap the potential and experience of those returning from abroad and other states after losing their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said, while announcing the cabinet decision on July 01, that the state government would work in a time-bound manner to get the project rolling by November 15.
The chief minister had said then that a timeline had been fixed for Dream Kerala project implementation.
The chief minister added that the general public would be given opportunities to provide ideas and recommendations for this project on Kerala’s future development and needs.
The government would then conduct a hackathon with a special focus on how to implement the selected ideas.
“The ‘Ideathon’ will be held between July 15 and July 30. And between August 01 and 10 a Hackathon will be conducted and a presentation of the selected project will be held in the virtual assembly on August 14,” he said adding that projects would be implemented in 100 days.
Unfortunately, the virtual assembly, which was scheduled to be held on August 14 to select projects did not happen.
Even though Keralites had started migration from the 1960s, and are remitting around Rs 2 lakh crore annually, there are no credible plans on the ground which can help the reintegration of returnees.
At a press conference, responding to a query from The Lede, Kerala finance minister Thomas Issac said that the reintegration of migrants is not a state subject.
“The central government should initiate plans. The reintegration of both internal and external migrants comes under the central subject,” he added.
Meanwhile, Irudaya Rajan, professor, Centre for Development Studies, said that Kerala should take a lead in talking with the central government for migrants’ reintegration plans.
“It is not Kerala alone, which is going to face a crisis when migrants are returning following job loss. Other states will also face the same crisis. So, Kerala should talk with other states which are going to face similar situations and lobby together for a reintegration plan and assistance from the central government,” the professor said.
Some Financial Help
Even though the Kerala government had not declared any financial assistance for returning Keralites, the state government had disbursed Rs 5000 to around 20,000 people who got stuck in Kerala due to lockdown since January.
“There were 1,67,000 applications. They had jobs abroad. But due to lockdown, they couldn’t fly out. The government has given Rs 5000 to 20,000 applicants. Rs 50 crore was allotted for NORKA last week too. We will be assisting in the coming days with that funds,” a NORKA official added.