THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Kerala is expecting the return of lakhs of people who are stranded abroad in the wake of COVID-19 and has been taking various steps to screen and quarantine them on their comeback but their evacuation will be easier said than as it involves various challenges.
The Centre has sought the readiness of all states, particularly the facilities they have set up for the screening and quarantining.
Kerala has conveyed a positive reply with the details of the preparations made, but the Union government cannot handpick Malayalis alone when it makes the list of people to be evacuated. NORKA-Roots has already started registration for NRKs wishing to return (3.20 lakh have applied so far, mostly from the UAE). Its vice-chairman K Varadarajan, however, said the evacuation was not the mandate of the state and the database is being prepared only to prioritise the category of people to be evacuated in a phased manner.
“Kerala has informed the Centre that it has arranged facilities as per the health protocol to receive the returning expatriates,” he said.
Furthermore, Kerala has demanded the Centre to bear the expense of evacuation as a good number of expats have already lost their employment.
“It’s up to the Centre to decide when the evacuation process has to be started,” he added.
An airline official who was involved in the evacuation of Indians from war zones in the past, said: “It’s true that Keralites form a lion’s share of people living abroad, especially in the Gulf. But even airports in neighbouring Tamil Nadu or Karnataka have not prepared for such an evacuation. So we don’t think there would be an immediate evacuation at least for the next three-four weeks as suggested by Kerala.”
There is also a lot of compulsions on the state to act in haste as the repatriation process involves regional and geopolitical dimensions.
The state government has to do something urgently to calm the frayed nerves of the expatriates and ensure that it is not politically exploited by anyone.