Two-thirds of Kerala immigrants returned during Covid; Call to hold survey to assess social impact


CG Sankar

Many of these returning migrants have further re-migrated to new destinations or gone back to their original destination countries. However, the state government is not in possession of any data on how many of them have gone back. The repeated calls to hold a survey to identify the impact of Covid-19 among immigrants have fallen on deaf ears.

Representational photo | Mathrubhumi

Kochi: Abdul Jabbar (47) of Karattu House at Kalathara in Kozhikode is the sole breadwinner of a large family, including his wife, four children, mother, brother, who is paralyzed on one side of the body after a stroke four years ago, and brother’s wife and two children. It was as a last resort, he had moved to the Gulf (Dubai) a few years back but the Covid-19 pandemic shattered all his hopes as in April 2020 he was forced to come back.

"The mobile shop, in which I was working, had been closed down as the business was very dull due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Coming back to Kerala was not possible as I did not have money for the tickets. Finally, I was helped by others to come back in the KMCC chartered flight. Now I am doing catering work to take care of my family," said Abdul Jabbar.

He finds it very difficult to make both ends meet as the meagre income from the catering works is not sufficient to meet the expenses for the treatment of his brother and other routine things of the family. The applications for availing bank loans through the numerous schemes declared by the state government have also not yielded any result as the concerned officials demanded to submit property documents as guarantee. “We live in a rented house and there is nothing in our hand to produce as a guarantee. All we have is an assurance of paying the amount back after starting some businesses with the loan,” said Abdul Jabbar.

He even thought of ending life many times but by seeing the faces of his children and family members, he couldn't take the extreme step. This is not an isolated incident of one Abdul Jabbar, but there are lakhs of such emigrants across the state who lead a shabby life owing to the government apathy in supporting them coupled with unfortunate circumstances.

Kerala has been one of the most important migration hubs in India for many decades and the economy of the state depends largely on foreign remittance. According to a report of the International Institute of Migration and Development (IIMAD), there are about 2.1 million Keralites settled in various countries around the world in 2018. The large majority, about 89 percent, of those migrants are settled in the oil- dependent Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries as temporary workers, with others migrating as high skilled workers to other developed economies of the world.

However, emigration from Kerala to the Gulf countries has a diminishing tendency over the years. Two decades of Kerala migration surveys evidenced that the decreasing trend is due to the cumulative effect of demographic change, decline in wage in the gulf economies, increase in wage in domestic economy, decline in oil price, nationalization policies in the GCC countries and skilled migration to new destinations.

Adding to the woes, COVID-19 pandemic has had a severe impact on our immigrant population. As per the budget headlines of the Government of Kerala, 14.3 lakhs migrants returned to Kerala during 2020-2021. This means that 1.4 million out of 2.1 million non-resident Kerala (NRK) migrants returned during the pandemic, which means, two-thirds of the entire NRK population has returned.

"This, inevitably, has tremendous consequences for not only the domestic labour market as they return, but also for their families as the remittances they send are the main sources of income for the entire family. This affects society at every level, and eventually has implications for the Kerala economy as a whole. This number of 1.4 million is based on the repatriation flight data accessed by the state government and conveys only one-way flow of return migrants. However, it is to be emphasized that many of these returning migrants have further re-migrated to new destinations or gone back to their original destination countries," said Irudaya Rajan, Founder-Chairman of IIMAD.

However, the state government is not in possession of any data on how many of them have gone back. The family members of immigrants and people on visit visas are also included in the list of those returned during the pandemic. The repeated calls to hold a survey to identify the status of emigration in Kerala and the impact of Covid-19 among immigrants have fallen on deaf ears.

According to Irudaya Rajan, 85,000 crore rupees was the foreign remittance to Kerala in 2018 and it rose to one lakh crores in 2020. "However, in the current situation, foreign remittance must have come down at least 10 percent," said Irudaya Rajan.

He also urged the government to examine the prevailing migration trends and patterns through a proper survey. "What is truly unprecedented is the extent to which it has affected the main destination countries for migrants from Kerala, particularly the Gulf and Europe. This has the potential to alter the trend of migration from Kerala as well. On the other hand, Kerala is also the source for nations to get healthcare workers, especially nurses, who have migrated to places like the Gulf and Europe and who are currently at the frontlines in the fight against Covid-19 in these countries. Moreover, with the drastic restructuring of the global economy during the pandemic, it is imperative to assess Kerala’s prospective migrant stock, identify skills and professions, and provide the necessary inputs to improve international migration in the post-pandemic world," said Irudaya Rajan.

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