In a major relief to Indians stuck in various countries across the globe, starting Thursday, May 7, India has begun bringing its citizens back home. In the first phase of evacuation, India is expected to evacuate around 15,000 nationals, of which 2,250 people are expected to return to Kerala.
However, the central government will be charging the expatriates airfare to travel to India. According to reports, the passengers will have to pay between ₹12,000 and ₹1 lakh, depending on the destination. For those returning from the Gulf countries to Kerala, each ticket is estimated to cost around ₹18,000 to ₹20,000.
As those wanting to return to India include professionals and labourers who have lost their jobs due to the economic impact of global lockdowns, many will be unable to bear the cost. With no choice left, they will be forced to stay back.
Recognising the plight of the economically weaker sections who are unable to return home, KS Sabarinadhan, MLA from Aruvikkara constituency in Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram district, has come forward to extend a helping hand.
"I have been receiving numerous correspondences from families of people in the Gulf right from the initial days of COVID-19. Most of the people in my constituency are daily wage labourers who are staying in excruciating conditions, mostly in labour camps. We have been giving local support wherever possible," Sabarinadhan tells The Logical Indian.
"They have been out of work for a couple of months and most of them earn at abysmal levels, moping up money for an air ticket is beyond them... Hence as a start, I decided to help ten of them," he adds.
The leader from the Indian National Congress party has also started a helpline called 'Aruvikkara pravasi helpline' with volunteers in Thiruvananthapuram as well as Middle East locations. After he announced the initiative, the MLA has received many calls from across the state.
When asked about the process he follows to help the expatriates, Sabarinadhan explains, "The expats who have registered with embassy contact my office, we do a preliminary check of the family background back in home and also their Middle East locations. The first ten tickets will be given to people from BPL(Below Poverty Line) backgrounds, underprivileged and women. We plan to connect with well-meaning people and provide help to more people in Aruvikkara."
To fund the tickets, Sabarinadhan is pitching in himself, and also follows a crowdsourcing model, where many of his friends and associates are chipping in to help.
"Even though I have targeted ten initially, it will be great if we can extend to at least 50," he says.
As of now, around four lakh expatriates have registered with the state government to return to Kerala. Of this, around 1000 belong to Aruvikkara, says the leader.
Thiruvananthapuram, the state capital, at present has zero cases of COVID-19. The large number of expatriates returning to Kerala is a major concern and the state has taken various measures to curb a possible spread of the virus.
"Quarantine protocol is being strictly monitored in the state. There are various government and private facilities identified across taluks. In my constituency also, we have earmarked colleges and hostel facilities in case of a rapid spread. All of us are working together," Sabarinadhan says.
The MLA adds that in these trying times, every MLA and MP should come forward to help 10 people each from their constituencies.
"I feel that if all MLA and MP target 10 ppl each from the constituency and political parties also chip in, we can easily get more than 5000 underprivileged people to come home," he says.
"This is very critical for Kerala since our pravasis help us in everything. A third of our income comes from foreign remittances. Even in the last flood, a large amount of help was received from the NRI community. If we cannot help them in their worst times, who will?" he adds.
With a whopping 5,00,000 to 10,00,000 applicants registered to return to India, the Centre has made it clear that only those who have "compelling reasons to return" will be allowed to return in the first phase. These include people whose visas are expiring, who face deportation, with family emergencies, medical issues including pregnancy, and students who have lost their accommodation.
Between May 7 and 13, India plans to operate 64 flights and three Navy ships, as part of Phase I of an evacuation plan, named "Vande Bharat Mission". Of these, 15 would be to Kerala, 11 each to Delhi and Tamil Nadu, seven each to Maharashtra and Telangana, and the remaining to Gujarat, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir, Karnataka, and, Uttar Pradesh.
On day 1 of the evacuation, two flights arrived in Kerala's Kochi and Kozhikode airport from Abu Dhabi and Dubai respectively. Air India's repatriation flight from Abu Dhabi to Kochi was the first to begin the evacuation. The flight carrying 177 passengers on board landed at the airport around 10:30 pm.Also Read: Kerala's First Tribal Woman To Crack UPSC Exams All Set To Be Asst Collector In Kozhikode