Thousands of Nepalis stranded in India lockdown urge their government to rescue themForeign Minister Gyawali has said Nepal-India border crossings will not be opened to let in returning Nepalis.
Thousands of Nepali migrant workers in India, most of them daily wage labourers, have requested the government of Nepal through the Embassy of Nepal in New Delhi to create an environment for them to return home amid the lockdown enforced both in India and Nepal over fears of Covid-19 spread.
Representatives of various political parties in Nepal who are based in India told the Post that at least 20,000 Nepalis have been caught in the lockdown and are unable to return home. They wish to come home and be with their families at this time.
They have called on the embassy and the government to make arrangements for their safe return home because many of them have lost their jobs and their source of income has dried up as a result of the lockdown.
But Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali, during his interview with Kantipur Television on Tuesday evening, denied the notion of opening the border to bring back Nepali citizens from India.
“This is not an emotional issue. The issue of coronavirus is not one limited to any particular country or nation but it has become a global issue. And if we keep on opening the border in the lockdown, there is no meaning of the lockdown,” he said.
The KP Sharma Oli government has come under criticism, including from his own party supporters, for leaving Nepali migrants high and dry during the pandemic.
“I must say that the government has failed to pay adequate attention to the Nepalis living in India who wish to return home in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak and the subsequent lockdown,” Yubaraj Baskota, former secretary general of Pravasi Nepali Simiti, an affiliate body of the ruling Nepal Communist Party, told the Post.
Over a million Nepali nationals work and live in various Indian cities. They enjoy equal treatment and benefits as Indian workers, save some government jobs that are exclusively for Indian nationals.
In the wake of the lockdown in India, thousands of Nepalis, most of them working menial jobs, have been put out of their jobs, without which they cannot survive.
“We have learned that there are at least 20,000 Nepali workers stuck in various Indian states who want to return home,” Bal Krishna Pandey, chairman of Jana-Samparka Samiti Nepal, an association affiliated to the Nepali Congress, told the Post over the phone from New Delhi.
To stop the spread of coronavirus, the government of India has imposed a three-week long nationwide lockdown. This decision has severely hit tens of thousands of daily wage workers, including Nepalis, who are now scrambling to get back to their homes.
Both Baskota and Pandey told the Post that the Nepali workers caught in the lockdown in India are ready to pay the cost incurred by the government of Nepal for their transportation and stay in quarantine facilities.
“A lot of rescue calls we have been receiving are from southern India. We have communicated their plight to the Nepali Embassy in New Delhi and to the office of Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali. We don’t know how to help them,” Pandey said.
Many of these workers, according to Pandey, share rooms and flats, and without jobs they have been unable to pay their rents.
Baskota, the former secretary general of Pravasi Nepali Simiti, said that many Nepalis who were visiting India for treatment and pilgrimage have also been hit as they are running out of money to pay hospital and hotel bills.
Meanwhile, officials at the Nepali Embassy in New Delhi said they have so far received rescue requests from only 1,200 Nepalis stranded in various Indian states due to the ongoing lockdown.
“We are getting requests from Nepalis working in various states of India for rescue, since they have lost their jobs due to the lockdown,” Bharat Kumar Regmi, deputy chief of mission at the embassy, told the Post over the phone. “As of now, the concerned state governments of India have been providing food and shelters for these people.”
Regmi fears the current situation could become worse if the lockdown is extended beyond two weeks.
“How long will they be able to feed and shelter the stranded people? If someone is infected and has to go for treatment, then the situation will turn more complicated,” Regmi said.
Authorities of Nepal and India for now have agreed to look after the needs of each other’s citizens stuck at the border due to the lockdown. The two sides have also agreed to keep the people in quarantine as a precaution. But the same level of succour is not available for those hapless Nepalis who remain stranded in various parts of India, jobless and without enough money to weather the lockdown.