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As lockdown eases and panic subsides, few Kerala expats willing to return home

An estimated 22 lakh expats from the state are based abroad, with 18 lakh of them in Gulf and West Asian countries.

Written by Shaju Philip | Thiruvananthapuram | Updated: May 31, 2020 8:31:03 am
kerala, kerala expats, kerala coroavirus, norka roots, uae kerala flight, coronavirus india news According to official data, 16,474 people from abroad have returned to Kerala until now – either by flights or ships – as on May 29. (Twitter/Hardeep Singh Puri)

As the panic over coronavirus subsides, and lockdown restrictions are eased in India and countries abroad, a large chunk of more than 4 lakh expatriates from Kerala who had registered with the state government to return home are unlikely to come back, according to officials, experts and feedback from the ground.

In all, 4.13 lakh expats had registered with the state government to return.

Nearly half of the total registrations are from UAE, according to data available. An estimated 22 lakh expats from the state are based abroad, with 18 lakh of them in Gulf and West Asian countries.

According to figures available with the government, job losses are a minor reason for those having registered to return with NORKA ROOTS, the state agency for expats – at 61,009 out of 4.13 lakh, it is 14.77 per cent of those registered. Statistics show 17 per cent of those registered are on annual vacation abroad, while 9 per cent reported that their visa has expired. Senior citizens, children and pregnant women form 7 per cent of those registered.

Read | Kerala to open registration for expats who want to fly back

According to official data, 16,474 people from abroad have returned to the state until now – either by flights or ships – as on May 29.

Prof S Irudaya Rajan, member of the state expert panel advising the Chief Minister on Covid-19 situation and a prominent scholar on international migration, said as normalcy returns, or people learn to live with the virus, a large chunk of expats would try to stay back at their present destination. Those who lost jobs abroad would try for other avenues, and many would re-migrate to new destinations, he said.

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“By the end of this year, we can expect a maximum of 1 lakh expats back in Kerala. A section of them is likely to replace inter-state migrants (people who left Kerala and went home to other states),” Rajan said.

Rajan said much of the initial numbers seen in registration of expats to return to Kerala was a panic reaction. “If we undertake a fresh round of registration next month, the number would be much less,” “Only expats in the priority category – mainly pregnant women, the indisposed, the aged and people whose visas have expired — are now returning in evacuation flights.”

He also said, “I was told that many are ready to return if there a flight service is available. “As Covid-19 cases are (still) rising in many countries, many feel Kerala is safe haven and thus long to return at this stage.”

Rajan pointed out that Kerala government had estimated return of 5 lakh expats during the Gulf crisis in 2008, but the actual number of those who returned following job losses was 50,000. “A year later, a study by the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram, showed that 30 per cent of these returnees re-migrated to the Gulf or other countries,” he said.

Surveys conducted by several local bodies in Kerala found few expressed their intention to return from abroad. For instance, in Kannur’s Madayi panchayat, which has 12,000 expats in Gulf out of the village’s population of 40,000, only about 1,100 wanted to return. “If the pandemic situation worsens, we expect the figure would go up to 2,000. Many are not keen to return due to bleak prospects back home,’’ panchayat vice-president M Pavithran said.

In Thirssur’s Chavakkad municipality, only 1,094 out of 4,500 expats from the area working in the Gulf evinced interest to return, and a similar feedback was received from local-self-government bodies in Malappuram district, which has the largest chunk of expats in the state.

World Malayalee Federation spokesman in UAE Firoz Babu said, “We have been trying to convince expats and counselling them that since the virus is spread everywhere, there is no logic in flying from one nation to another. Once the country attains normalcy, jobs would emerge. The rulers in UAE have also send a message to migrants not to return in panic.”

Many who arrived before lockdown eye return

Kochi: There is another section of expats who are now looking to fly back — these people had reached Kerala before the lockdown and got stranded here. The Kerala government will now launch a registration system to help this segment.

NORKA ROOTS vice-chairman K Varadarajan said, “We are getting many queries and requests from expats who have got trapped in the wake of lockdown. They have valid job visa. Many are (now) getting calls from their employers (in foreign shores) to join back for duty. So we have decided to launch a registration system — it would be a portal to collect details.”

Varadarjan said the process would help the government gauge the number of people who are willing to return abroad and identify them. “There are people waiting to return to countries such the UAE, UK and the US. We have to see how they can fly back by clubbing evacuation flights reaching India from other countries. We have to consider the procedures followed by various countries and take steps to issue mandatory health certificate to those who want to return,” he said. (ENS)

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