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Nepali migrant workers return to India as covid-19 second wave ebbs

A representational photograph of workers in Delhi (Photo: Rahul Kumar)

With the second wave of coronavirus cases in India touching two-month lows and parts of the country beginning to open up gradually, Nepali workers are crossing over to India for work and livelihoods.

The Kathmandu Post reported that despite restrictions in Nepal on the movement of people due to the second wave, Nepali migrant workers are going back to India through the Trinagar-Gauriphanta border in Uttar Pradesh. Due to the restrictions on movement and transport, they are paying exorbitant fares to reach their destinations.

Quoting Nepal's Armed Police Force on the border, the newspaper said that on an average nearly 300 migrant workers are going back to India daily. These workers had left India when the Covid-19 second wage had hit India severely in April. Nearly 27,000 Nepali workers had come home during the early days of the deadly second wave.

Within just a couple of months, over 9,000 individuals have crossed back into India in search of work and jobs. Laxman Joshi, Police Inspector of the Armed Police Force, said that over 9,000 Nepali workers have already crossed over into India.

Most of the people crossing over to India hail from villages, where there is little work. Within India, some of them go as far as Maharashtra for work.

Narrating his story, Dil Bahadur Saud, from village Kailali, said: “There are no jobs in the villages. We have to work for a living, pandemic or not. Otherwise, we will have nothing to eat". The report says that the workers who are still at home also plan to go back to India once they find that things have stabilised.

India and Nepal share a nearly 1,850 km long open border. Besides the border, the two nations have deep cultural and historical relations with a strong people-to-people connect. Both the countries have allowed their citizens to live and work freely across the border. Nepali people have been coming to India for at least two centuries for gainful employment.

Estimates about the number of Nepalis working in India vary. The Indian embassy in Kathmandu says "nearly eight million Nepalese citizens live and work in India." However, other estimates put that number at upto three million.

Most Nepalis work in the informal sector as labourers in the construction and agricultural sectors, as security guards, cooks and casual workers of various kinds. Many other have established small businesses or eateries through which they manage to sustain their families in Nepal.

The coronavirus crisis that started in China in late 2019 and infected the rest of the world at a rather vicious rate has impacted the Nepali workers severely in India.

During the first wave of pandemic 2020 in India, lakhs of Nepalis went back home due to the lockdown and the fear of the infection. As India was able to manage the first wave effectively, most of them returned back for work. Documenting their thoughts, Nepal newspaper, Nepali Times found that the migrants expressed confidence that they have better changes of locating work in India through their relatives and well-entrenched networks.

Though some of these workers could have located work in the Gulf countries or even in South-East Asian nations, they are unable to fly due to visa restrictions and flight bans. For them India is still accessible and many of them are holders or Indian documents like Aadhar cards, providing a certain ease of work.

Once again the Nepali workers have shown confidence that they would be able to find work and livelihood in India. As India has begun to open up and Nepal is still grappling with the second wave, many optimistic workers have begun to trickle back to the large southern neighbour.