The situation of migrant workers in India is alarming. Due to the COVID-19 crisis, the sudden suspension of work and restrictions on movement is causing deep social distress. To support them during this period, Aide et Action is increasing their food supply and defending their fundamental rights.
In India, the government-imposed lockdown to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic has caused severe economic disruption and created social distress. Restrictions on movement have hit the poorest the hardest and the sudden suspension of work has plunged migrant workers into precarious situations. On many construction sites, employers have even forcefully evacuated workers and their families. The current situation is severely impacting their fundamental rights to food, shelter, and work.
Advocating for migrants is a priority
In Hyderabad, where Aide et Action was already working with the migrant population, our teams advocated with the owners of brickyards and construction sites and convinced them to provide shelter and a dry ration for all migrants working on their sites. Thanks to this advocacy work, around 6,000 migrants, spread over fifty sites, now benefit from this aid and also receiving a weekly grant of INR 500 from their employers.
“Initially, we were unaware of the existing relief mechanisms for migrants. Therefore, we asked the construction workers to leave our sites,” explains Venkata Rao, Director of a construction company in Hyderabad. “But at the same time, Aide et Action, which was running a child care centre in our premises, approached us and supported us in mobilizing relief material for the migrants. We then realised that it is also our duty to help our workers. Since then we too are actively working to provide relief material like rice, pulses, vegetables and other essentials.”
Kumar Maji, a migrant working in a brick kiln in Telangana, describes the support as unexpected as many migrants felt they had been abandoned. “Immediately after the lockdown was announced, our employer asked us to leave the brick kiln worksite,” says Kumar. “With no transportation, it was almost impossible to travel 850 km that separated us from our home village, in Odisha. I don’t know what we would have done. Thanks to Aide et Action, our employer finally budged and gave permission for us to stay.”
Providing additional answers
Aide et Action also continues to maintain its support for the children of migrant workers. Even as the Child Care and Learning Centres were shut down for safety reasons, we ensured mid-day meal and nutritional support to all the children attending the centres. “With no work to feed our children, this support is helping us through this difficult period,” says Meena, a mother-of -two, relying on the support.
Alongside the relief activities, we are also conducting hygiene and health awareness campaigns to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Basic protective gear, including masks and gloves, has been distributed to all migrants and their children, and our education volunteers have been continuously promoting social distancing and hygiene methods.
Our teams have been proactively addressing the issues faced by distressed migrant families in other parts of the city as well. They have been providing psycho-social counselling support and distributed grocery kits to migrants who have come to our attention through various NGO and community Whatsapp groups and government COVID-19 helplines.
“We are part of the NGO group working collectively to support migrants stranded during the lockdown. As soon as we receive information in the group about the distressed migrants in Telangana we immediately reach out to them and provide relief followed by other services,” says Suresh Gutta, Regional Manager – Hyderabad, Aide et Action.