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Coronavirus Lockdown : Exodus of migrant workers from Kerala leaves illegal Bangladeshis in a quandary

The exodus of migrants from all states shows no signs of ending as the COVID-19 pandemic expands its footprint across the nation. The reverse migration has exposed the chinks in the preparedness of many states as well as a host of issues faced by the floating population in the country.

As each train leaves Kerala with truckloads of workers, illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, however, have nowhere to go.Migrants will have to produce their identity cards and Aadhaar cards before being quarantined in their home states as the authorities will have to keep a tab on them even after the quarantine period to keep the virus in check.

This has come as a major deterrent for illegal Bangladeshi immigrants to take a risky train journey as they would be exposed. It is estimated that less than one per cent of the migrant population in Kerala are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Quantifying their numbers is a matter of contention as NGOs working for the welfare of these workers claim there were at least 25 lakh migrants in the state, while the state government has been relying on the Aawaz health scheme for migrants in which around 5.08 lakh have been enrolled.

Amid the claims and counter claims, it is estimated that over 10,000 illegal migrants have been staying in the state. Even when almost all other states have started to take their people from Kerala, it has to be noted that Assam, which accounts for around 22 per cent of the workforce in the state, has not started a single train to that state from Kerala to take back its people. Assam has the lowest Aadhaar penetration of a little over 10 per cent in the country.

Since most of the illegal immigration from Bangladesh has been taking place through Assam, the laxity in arranging transportation for migrants to that state is not surprising.

Indu Varma, a Malayali settled in Dhaka who has been helping to repatriate Bangladeshi nationals from Kerala to Bangladesh, said, “The exodus of migrants would bring more accountability and transparency into this grey area. Till now, no government agency has proper stats regarding the number of illegal immigration from Bangladesh. Now this would help the state to have a clear picture on this matter as for the first time the governments have started to look into various aspects of migration — both legal and illegal,” she said.

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