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Use Indian Community Welfare Fund to repatriate poor Indians stranded abroad amid COVID-19: Plea in Supreme Court

Debayan Roy

A petition in the Supreme Court has sought directions to the Centre to make use of the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) so that Indians from economically weaker sections of society who are stranded in foreign countries due to the COVID-19 pandemic are repatriated without any cost.

The petition filed by NGO Pravasi Legal Cell through Advocate Jose Abraham states that fixing a fare for repatriation at the time of distress would further put burden on the migrant labourers who are already out of job and proper shelter, putting them in a vulnerable condition living abroad.

Set up in 2009, the ICWF is aimed at assisting overseas Indian nationals in times of distress and emergency. It has offered support in emergency evacuation of Indian nationals from conflict zones, countries affected by natural disasters, and other challenging situations.

Highlighting the existence of the ICWF, the petitioner organisation states that funds from the same can be used to facilitate free of charge travel for the economically weaker Indians stuck abroad.

The plea states that during the novel Coronavirus pandemic, many stranded Indian migrant workers who are jobless would not be able to pay the charge for repatriation. It is contended,

“Government must also consider the situation of migrant workers who have already lost their jobs and are living in miserable conditions in the Gulf countries, and make use of the funds like ICWF already available for bearing the cost of such needy Indian expatriates."

The petition points out that the vast majority of migrant workers are working in the gulf countries and that they are mostly “low skilled labour force.”

The plea further states that after the COVID-19 pandemic began, most of the migrant workers in the Gulf countries were transferred to quarantine camps that were “notoriously crowded.”

“A typical Labour accommodation in the Gulf Countries is home to hundreds of thousands of men, most of whom live in cramped dormitories, often packed eight or 10 to a room, making it extremely difficult to stop the transmission of the virus."

[Read plea here]

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