COVID-19: More than thousand Nepalese migrants stranded in India during harvest time

All the migrants have only one request for authorities in Nepal: To arrange for them an entrance to their home country

By Raman Paudel
Published: Wednesday 29 April 2020

More than a thousand Nepalese migrant workers remain stranded in India at an inopportune time: When they have to be at home in their villages and help out their families in completing farm work related to harvesting. The workers are stranded at Uttarakhand’s Dharchula district, that shares a border with south west Nepal, because of nationwide lockdowns in both countries to curb the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Reaching out to administrative personnel, police officers and non-profits in Nepal has become a part of their daily routine.

All the migrants have only one request for authorities in Nepal: To arrange for them an entrance to their home country. In return, however, the migrants have received no response.

Bikram Bishwokarma — a migrant workers from Nepal’s Bajhang district — spent a month in quarantine in India.  He tested negative for the virus (SARS-CoV-2), but is still waiting for permission to cross the border.

“We have already spent a painful month here, but received no green signal from our government yet,” he said.

Bikram receives a phone call every day from his family asking him when he can come back to his village: A question for which he has no answer.

Nepal produces around 50 million tonnes grains every year and requires 60 million tonnes more. Several thousand youth who work as seasonal labourers across India, usually return to their villages for the harvest every summer.

If grains are not harvested on time, the country may face a situation where several could starve.

“Our families are waiting us. If we cannot go back, we could face a starvation problem for the entire year,” said Birendra Lohar, a stranded labourer.

Yadunath Paudel, the chief district officer of Darchula district in Nepal said he will permit workers to enter the Himalayan country if he receives a federal government order.

Paudel said all he is only waiting for a single order from the country’s Home Ministry. The country’s government, however, said the lockdown will continue for 10 more days, without mentioning the stranded migrants.

“Our family members are worried for us. We have tested negative for COVID-19, yet are not allowed to enter own country,” said Lohar, adding that several of them were ready to quarantine themselves in Nepal.

“We have been living as if we are in jail, since a month,” he said.

Nepal has 52 reported cases of the infection, with 16 cured and no deaths. The country has carried out more than 53,000 tests so far.

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