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COVID forces India’s former Gulf workers to forge new futures

Aljazeera, India, 31 March 2021 - It is not yet dawn but Yeroor village is long awake, the hum of productivity floating over “Gulf Street”, a lush green boulevard named for the thousands of workers who leave the southern Indian state of Kerala every year for jobs in the Middle East.

But now the workers are back, from machine operator Sudheesh Kumar, who has been forced back into manual labour in Yeroor to make ends meet, to former banker Binoj Kuttappan, who has taken up dog breeding in the state capital, Thiruvananthapuram.

In the single biggest reverse migration in more than 50 years, workers from the Gulf have streamed back to the coastal state of Kerala in the past year, propelled by a pandemic that deflated dreams of overseas riches and changing family fortunes.

While once they came home wealthy and revered, bearing gold, sunglasses, clothes and funds to buy homes, now they have returned sheepish and penniless.

“Prior to COVID, they were celebrated as heroes. Now they have nothing,” said Irudaya Rajan, a professor at the Centre for Development Studies in Kerala, who has studied migration patterns in India’s southernmost state.

“This is the first time they have returned empty-handed and will end up borrowing and selling assets,” said Rajan.



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