Picture used for illustrative purpose only.
Coronavirus quarantine charges levied by an Indian state on migrant workers who are being flown home from Gulf nations will drive many returnees further into debt and put them at risk of destitution, campaigners and labourers said on Wednesday.
India in May began a drive to repatriate nearly a million citizens from around the world as the pandemic left many jobless and struggling to survive. The arrivals are quarantined in hotels, college hostels or empty houses for about a week.
Most have returned from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kwtait, Qatar, Oman, and Saudi Arabia, government data shows.
The southern state of Telangana is charging at least Rs8,000 ($107) to put its returning citizens in quaranatine at hotels for a week, raising concern among former Gulf workers who have large debts, little savings and few job prospects at home.
Mahender Deepkonda, who lost his security guard job in Qatar in March, said he had to take out a fresh loan to pay for a flight home in May and was falling ever deeper into debt.
"The cycle (of repayment) is broken. My outstanding loan amount has gone up by three times," said Deepkonda, 38, who paid Rs15,000 for a two-week hotel quarantine before Telangana reduced the fee and period in May as per government guidelines.
"I earn Rs500 as daily wages for farm labour in my village," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone from Jagtial.
"I don't know when I will be able to repay this loan."
Arvinder Singh, Telangana deputy secretary for non-resident Indian affairs, said returning workers were charged for travel and quarantine "as per the government of India guidelines."
The official declined to give further details, and did not specify how many returnees had been charged for quarantine.
An estimated 9 million Indian migrants work in the Gulf states with most of them in low- and semi-skilled jobs, the United Nations International Labour organisation (ILO) says.
About 500,000 overseas citizens have returned home since May, either flown or sailed home by the government or put on chartered flights sponsored by companies and community groups.
Kerala has received the most arrivals of all Indian states - with at least 135,000 people from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar alone, according to government data - yet the state has not imposed a quarantine fee on its returnees.
"We did not consider charging people at any point... even though they are coming from abroad, they are poor, they have lost their jobs," said Amar Fettle, Kerala state's nodal officer for COVID-19.
Labour unions estimate that about 10,000 Indian migrants have returned from the Gulf to Telangana since May, and are urging the local government to follow Kerala's example.
"The government should think about the poor in these times, but they are asking for money," said Guggilla Ravi Goud, convener of the Telangana Gulf Workers Joint Action Committee.
"This is milking their misery for business," he added.
Cases of COVID-19 continue to rise in India with almost 1.2 million infections, behind only the United States and Brazil.
In the absence of a separate room for self-isolation in their small huts, seven migrant workers perched themselves on a banyan tree to remain in quarantine.
The official also told a press conference on Tuesday that six confirmed new cases of COVID-19 were detected in Goa, while 13 persons were cured, bringing down the state's active COVID-19 tally to 22.
Some people died under the physical strain of the relentless walking, while others were killed in road accidents. The government told India's top court on Tuesday that 500,000 to 600,000 migrants have walked to their villages from cities.
The men told police they had ventured out of the camp, which is under lockdown alongside the rest of Greece's migrant facilities to limit the spread of the virus. There have been coronavirus cases in two camps and a migrant hotel on the Greek mainland, where 150 people tested positive this week.
In a statement on Thursday, the Ministry stressed its aim to continue expanding the scope of testing nationwide to facilitate the early detection of coronavirus cases and carry out the necessary treatment.
Almost a million Rohingya — most of whom fled a military offensive in neighbouring Myanmar in 2017 — live in a vast network of squalid camps in south-eastern Bangladesh.
Authorities reported the deaths all took place in Nakhon Si Thammarat province, where television footage showed staff of a hospital piling up sandbags outside an emergency room to fend off water gushing in from the street.
Tariq Saeed Allay said, "The special concert celebrating the 49th National Day reflects Sharjah’s keenness to translate the ideals and values of the UAE federation and its commitment to support humanitarian initiatives."