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.
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 mandatory home quarantine period for domestic passengers has been reduced to seven days from 14. Initially, the mandatory quarantine period was 28 days. They can be tested on the seventh day after their arrival.
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 Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation (MoHRE) revealed that approximately 5.73 million employees have subscribed to the Unemployment Insurance Scheme since it went into effect on Jan.1, 2023, up until Sept.25, 2023.
Sheikh Hamdan inaugurated the third edition of the Dubai World Congress for Self-Driving Transport and honoured the winners of the Dubai World Challenge for Self-Driving Transport.
She added that immediately after the operation, she had severe bleeding and blood accumulation in the neck, after which she was admitted to intensive care for two days.