Thousands of Nepalis without food or shelter await entrance at the Karnali borderMigrants arriving from India are massed at the border without basic amenities as the provincial government has sought to test them all for Covid-19 before letting them in.
Deepak BK travelled for five days from Manali in Himachal Pradesh and reached Karnali on Tuesday. Himachal police had allowed BK and 24 others to hire a bus to go home after obtaining a medical certificate from a local hospital confirming that they did not have Covid-19.
BK entered Nepal on Monday, May 25. No one stopped the bus he was on at the border, he said. But since then, he’s been stuck at the provincial border between Sudurpaschim and Karnali, alongside thousands of other migrants headed to Karnali. Ever since he arrived, he’s had nothing to eat or drink and has nowhere to sleep.
“In Manali, I was given hot meals three times a day but here, I have not had a morsel of food,” BK told the Post over the phone from Subbakuna in Surkhet. “I will most likely spend the night sleeping on the ground.”
Nepali migrants had been trickling slowly into Karnali ever since the lockdown but busloads began to arrive on Saturday, May 23. Since the provincial government has sought to test them all before allowing them to enter, thousands are currently massed at the border, waiting for their turn to be tested and let in. Without proper food or shelter, many have been forced to spend their days hungry and their nights on the ground.
The province government has made it mandatory for rapid diagnostic tests to be performed on returnees at the entry point. Only upon obtaining a detailed report regarding their health status and necessary arrangements of quarantine for individuals who test positive can returnees be allowed to enter, according to Ramesh Neupane, the Chief District Officer of Surkhet. The delays are due to an inability to test such a large number at one time, he said.
Since the beginning of May, the Indian government started deploying trains to rescue migrant workers stranded in different parts of the country. Nepalis working in different parts of India have utilised this service to get to the border where they are put in buses by the Indian provincial governments and sent home, according to Dal Bahadur Rawal, Karnali’s minister for social development . Despite a nationwide lockdown and a closure of the international border, these migrants have managed to make their way into Nepal without any problems.
According to Rawal, around 20,000 migrants have entered the province in the last two days, and the government was not prepared.
“We were expecting a total of around 25,000 returnees to the province,” said Rawal. “But it looks like the figure will likely exceed 50,000 and this has overwhelmed the government.”
The plight of Nepalis at the Karnali border was documented on social media by humanitarian worker Maggie Doyne, who posted a plea on Instagram on Saturday asking for help.
“There are tens of thousands of migrants coming to Karnali from India on hungry stomachs. They are now stuck in these buses without any provisions of food, water, toilets, or beddings. There are lactating mothers with infants only a few months old,” Doyne told the Post.
With the help of local volunteers, Doyne, who operates the Kopila Valley School in Surkhet’s Birendranagar, has been providing food and water to individuals stranded at the border since Saturday.
Rawal, the social development minister, however said that the province will begin providing cooking meals to individuals stuck at the border from Wednesday.
Krishna Bahadur Rokaya, information officer at the provincial ministry of internal affairs, also told the Post that the provincial government was aware of the plight of the migrants and was working to speed up the testing process.
Migrant workers are suffering disproportionately from the lockdown, as all three tiers of the Nepal government have largely failed to make adequate arrangements for their return home, including testing and quarantine. Thousands remain stuck at the Nepal-India border, leading many to take up dangerous, clandestine means to sneak across.
While the federal government has pledged to bring back migrants from India and abroad, a concrete plan has yet to be formed.
For Nepalis who’ve travelled hundreds of kilometres in an attempt to get home during a time of crisis, it was the government’s failure to ensure local jobs that forced them to migrate and now, it’s the government’s inadequacies that are keeping them at the border with no food or shelter.
“Our government has failed us and we have lost all hope,” a migrant worker who travelled five days from Mumbai can be heard on one of Doyne’s social media posts. “All we are asking for is food and water and to be allowed to go home.”