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The Story Of Nepal’s Migrant Distress

With no savings left, migrant workers crossed the border into their home country in the hope of finding relief and safety. But the reality that welcomed them was different. The journey was grueling for many, and some of the quarantine centres are a hot bed for infection with extremely poor and cramped living conditions, lack of sanitation, clean water and food, and the burden of waiting uncertainly for PCR tests. Many are planning to go back to India before the imposed quarantine time period effectively ends. Ultimately it’s a question of survival with the responsibility of mouths to feed and families to look after. This is what some of them had to say:

Text: Ankita Jain

Yesoda B.K
Age: 18
Working country: Uttarakhand, India
Quarantine centre: Surkhet

I used to work as a road maintenance labourer. Days before India eased the lockdown, I along with 34 more people reserved a microbus from Uttarakhand to Mahendranagar. We have been in the quarantine centre for more than 14 days. There is no regular checkup or care here. The local government just put us here and disappeared. Moreover, we are getting food supplies but water and sanitation is a big concern. We are scared of other diseases which are breeding due to lack of proper washroom during menstruation. The toilets we use are full of mosquitoes and other insects.

As there are no job opportunities in Nepal for people like us, I am eagerly waiting for the day when things are normal and I can move back to India. I am concerned as my entire savings have been spent to travel here and I am not able to send money to my family even for their daily needs. I curse this pandemic every day.

Prem Salami
Age: 17
Working country: Gadwal, India
Quarantine centre: Surkhet

I had been working in India for some time now as a road maintenance labourer. Life was harsh there but I was happy that I was earning and also sending money to my family in Surkhet. We started suffering immensely within a few days after lockdown. There was scarcity of food and we were scared. Coronavirus looked like it would never end and I wanted to be with my family during this difficult time. There were 44 of us stranded there so we reserved a microbus and reached Mahendranagar. Though there was no space even to move in the microbus, the thought of homecoming kept us strong.

It’s been more than 14 days and we are still waiting for our PCR tests to be done. We desperately want to go home and meet our family members. The quarantine centre lacks regular checkup, care and support. We are expecting allowances from the government which will keep us running for a few days. Also, I will be leaving for India as soon as I can as there is no job guarantee here.

Bikash Karna
Age: 32
Working country: Mumbai, India
Quarantine centre: Janakpur

I work in the Hindi film industry in the production department. All projects came to a halt in the dream city of India a long time back. The actual reason to move back to Nepal wasn’t for work but the rising number of cases and unavailability of hospital beds there. I was scared. I flew from Mumbai to Patna and landed in this quarantine centre. It’s been more than 10 days that I have been living in Ward no 7 Quarantine in Janakpur.

The thing that bothers me here is the negligence. PCR test should be done on the day of arrival but hasn’t been done yet. Since the day I reached here, I keep complete distance from the people living here. I had been living alone in the allotted room for the past week and now I share a room with a student. Currently, there are 10 people in the centre. A few have been tested here, out of them one tested positive and has been kept in isolation.

I believe I will be returning back to Mumbai in a few months. It doesn’t seem like things will be normal soon.

Dal Bdr. Sunar
Age: 65
Working country: Uttarakhand, India
Quarantine centre: Surkhet

Even at this age, I am working as as a road maintenance labourer to help my family in Surkhet. I along with ten people reserved a microbus from Uttarakhand to Rupaidia border. The government picked us from there and kept us in quarantine centre. It’s more than 18 days here and we are still waiting for the PCR test. This pandemic is making me learn new words every other day.

Here the food is good but they lack facilities for elderly people. I am highly disappointed with the washroom facility. Sanitation and hygiene doesn’t meet the standard here. However, if the government creates job opportunities for us, I would happily stay in my country.

Currently, I have no money. Even the job provider in India didn’t pay us. I spent almost Rs 15,000 on travelling, accommodation and food to reach the border.

Top Bdr. Sunar
Age: 31
Working country: Gujarat, India
Quarantine centre: Surkhet

I used to work as a waiter in one of the hotels in Gujarat. I have been working there for a few years now and I used to love my work. Due to the rising number of Coronavirus cases in the Indian state, my family started worrying and pleaded that I move back to Nepal as early as possible. We were a group of seven friends working in Gujarat and we decided to reserve a microbus and reach Nepalgunj.

I wish I could isolate at my home instead of this quarantine centre. Currently, I am waiting for the PCR test to be done and be free to hug my family without any fear. I am sure I have to move back to India as early as possible because things have started functioning there and I don’t want to lose my job. I am the only breadwinner of my family and have huge responsibilities on my shoulder.

Bhim Bdr. Khatri
Age: 27
Working country: Gadwal, India
Quarantine centre: Surkhet

I work in the construction industry as a labourer. I make people’s houses so that I can support my home in Surkhet. As India suddenly closed everything and announced lockdown, many migrant labourers like me were panicking. We had nowhere to go because we usually stay in the construction site. 21 people in my group contributed with whatever savings they had and we booked a microbus to Banbasa.

It’s been 15 days at the quarantine centre. We are unaware if anyone from the group is Coronavirus positive. Though we all try to maintain a safe distance, it would be a relief if PCR tests were done on the first day itself.
I am the sole breadwinner of my family and this constantly worries me. I have been unemployed for more than three months now. Things are difficult and I will be moving to India soon. More than the virus, I am scared of how I am going to send money to my family.

COVID WARRIOR

Ramesh Bikram Hamal, Program Coordinator at Samriddhi College of Bhaktapur and a social activist is currently in his home town of Surkhet. Ramesh is giving free meditation and aerobics classes to people in different quarantine centres. “I work in three quarantine centres in the Lekbeshi Municipality Ward 3 and 4 of Surkhet,” Ramesh shares. His classes are attended by 134 people from all three quarantine centres.

A professional dancer, Ramesh says that through his classes, he is able to connect with the migrant labourers and is glad that he is able to contribute to the welfare of people in the time of pandemic. He also discloses that the people returning from India are labeled as virus and are seen as a stigma by the villagers. “This mindset is hampering the mental health of the people in the quarantine. I try counseling them but the growing number of cases is bothering them immensely,” he states.

Despite lacking a PPE suit, Ramesh has been conducting the classes for more than 20 days. “I maintain more than three feet distance and wear gloves and mask. I make sure that the exercises are light and don’t result in heavy breathing,” he says. To make sure he doesn’t carry the disease, Ramesh isolates himself at home and maintains distance from the family members and community people.

Currently in the Lekbeshi Municipality there are almost 900 people in quarantine centre and out of them 49 are positive.