1.73 lakh expats stranded in Kerala apply for aid of Rs 5000, experts say most may return

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THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A major chunk of the 1.73 lakh expats stuck in the state is keen to return to various countries, including the Middle East, say experts.

NORKA Roots — the agency acting as an interface between expats and the state government — had announced Rs 5,000 in aid to those who had come after January 1, which has been claimed by more than 1.73 lakh people. Migration expert and professor at the Centre for Development Studies S Irudayarajan says these people will definitely be returning abroad within the next three months.

The aid announced on April 20 was applicable to those who were unable to return abroad due to the lockdown and those whose visas expired during this period. The amount will be transferred to their savings bank accounts in India and not their NRI bank accounts.

At first, the deadline to apply for the aid was April 30 which was extended until May 5. NORKA Roots CEO Harikrishnan Namboothiri told The New Indian Express that processing is on to check the veracity of expats who had applied online for the aid.

“Currently, I can say that a majority of them who have applied for the NORKA aid are potential returnees to their destinations abroad. We will be able to reveal the exact percentage of those keen to return abroad only later,” he said. The delay in providing aid to the applicants happened because there was an apprehension of fake entries which led NORKA to get in touch with the respective village officers to confirm their veracity.

Another NORKA official confirmed that a majority of the expats who had applied for the aid are blue-collar labourers as well as small-scale shop owners who have been stranded in Kerala during the lockdown. He said there is a demand for labourers in the UAE as the lockdown is not being strictly observed there. The official recalled how an HR manager based in Bahrain and currently stranded in Thiruvananthapuram is desperate to return.

“NORKA will be remitting the aid to the eligible applicants by the first week of June. The compulsion from the families of the labour class is high, prompting them to return abroad. Middle-level and senior-level officers can’t afford to lose their jobs prompting them to return at any cost,” said a NORKA official.

T Rajamani, a Thiruvananthapuram native who has been working as a mason with a leading construction company in Muscat, told TNIE that he could not avail the NORKA aid as he had come for holidays during the fag end of December. He said the only solace is that he has got his work visa until the end of 2021.

“My cash flow has been affected as I was planning to return to Muscat by the end of March. I had not come to Kerala for more than three years which helped me to avail three months leave. With the relaxation in the lockdown, I have started going for work to small-scale construction sites in Thiruvananthapuram and it helps me earn Rs 900 per day. But I am not happy here and wish to go back once the airline services are operational,” said Rajamani.

Interestingly, several Gulf returnees working in senior positions who were holidaying in Kerala before the COVID-19 pandemic struck have not applied for the aid. A senior official working with one of the world’s leading petroleum companies in the Middle East as a chemical engineer told TNIE that he too has been stranded in Ernakulam since early March. The Gulf countries are already beginning to see the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, with oil prices sinking to an all-time low.

“Fortunately, with 25 years of service in the Middle East, I can afford to stay back in Kerala. I have not availed the NORKA aid as it is not meant for people like me. It should go to the right hands. My boss has asked me to return to the Middle East at the earliest and join duty as oil production has to be increased post-COVID. I guess not all would be lucky like me,” he said.

“All these people will go back. Once the aviation services resume, there will be mass movement from here to abroad. Within the next three to four months, the confidence level of the stranded Malayalis in Kerala would change for the best,” said Irudayarajan who is gearing up to do the eighth migration survey.

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