The stranded sections of the Indian fraternity, stuck in foreign lands due to flight cancellation during the lockdown, are beginning to reach home from today. It was with Kerala leading the battle against Covid, when most other countries were recording alarming rates of virus spread and morality, that the expatriates started thinking of reaching home at any cost. When the Gulf expatriates, who have been adding value to the national economy through foreign exchange and with socio-economic advancements, have been ever vigilant also to hold the umbilical chord with the home states.
When their clamour and concern became a call for help, their native land responded. Thus the state government got ready to welcome back with caring hands those who had been instrumental in making possible the famed 'Kerala-model'. Although the Centre had initially shown negative attitude towards this demand citing fear of Covid and technicalities of lockdown restrictions, probably under the pressure from the state, it came down to a more flexible approach. The initiative by social organizations to ensure safe routing of returnees to their homes in compliance with safety precautions in line with Covid prevention protocol, made the government's path easy. Thus, it is when the preparations jointly by the government and voluntary organizations are all in place that the Gulf expatriates are getting ready for a repatriation, in the biggest operation after the one during the first Gulf War.
All the same, the return of nealy two lakh people is happening in an atmosphere more cloudy than what prevailed during the Gulf war crisis. If the expatriate community then had come home after losing jobs with hopes of returning there once normalcy was restored, this time they are flying home with both life and livelihood at risk. Even after they set their foot on homeland, they can get reach only after a stay of a week or two once they are cleared of any symptoms of disease. And unlike in the previous era, their return home with pack of gifts will not be with either the nostalgia of home or the fragrance of hopes. Most of them may be escaping a stalemate threatening disease and job loss. When the means of supporting families raises a challenge before every one, the one to suffer will be none other than the very state of Kerala. The expatriates' share of income, that makes up 30 to 35 per cent of internal revenue, is going to crash with the Covid time. That translates into a deadly dent on the state's income with such an exodus from abroad, given the fact that there are 22.5 lakh expatriates from the state. To add to the woes, it will also increase the unemployment rate in the state. Then it will fall on the central and state governments to make effective and multi-layered interventions. It is also the time for governments and people to stand together for a solution out of the crisis. Ever since the crisis of Covid set in, governments have been harping on the need for this unity and cohesion. But sadly, aside from official expressions, governmental interventions do reflect some vested political interests.
The cold war between the Centre and the state in the matter of paving the way for return of expatriates has not ended even now. Starting from the medical examination of the returnees, the number of returnees eligible for flight berth, information about airports for arrival upto the quarantine period of the returnees, the information provided by the Centre and the state are conflicting, and therefore confusing. Right from the start, there have been a tendency to change the schedule of pre-announced flights. The Centre's minister of state for foreign affairs, who says that all Indians desirous of returning will be brought back, however does not agree with the figures of Malayalis abroad stated by the chief minister. It is not all befitting an arduous task of finding solution during a pandemic to be bedevilled by political furore. The government should end the confusion and obviate the concerns of the arriving expatriates, their relatives and fellow natives. Since the arrival of returnees is at a stage when lockdown relaxations are expected, the people also should stay alert not to lose in future the high civic sense displayed so far. The top priority of those who return and those who receive them with care, should be to strictly abide by the directions given by the government and the health authorities.
Equally important as Covid care, is the long-term plan for the welfare of the returnees. Apart from the promises and proclamations by Norka and the government becoming the cause for boasts by the ruling parties and their rank and file, there is nothing in them for the rehabilitation of expatriates to pin hopes on, as has been amply demonstrated during the time of job nationalisationin the Gulf. The state government has to ensure that matters will not end with the celebration of expatriates' return at the time of pandemic and that the government is with them with diligent follow-up to rehabilitate them in life here.