Over 500 Nepali migrant workers stranded on border

Bajura/Dhangadi, March 30

The nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of coronavirus pandemic has left more than 500 Nepali migrant workers returning from India through Pithoragarh in the lurch, in Dharchula, on the Indian side of the border.

More than 450 workers returning from Pithoragarh, Didihat and Munsiyari have been stuck at Darchula border point, while more than 40 people are stranded at Baitadi’s Jhulaghat for the past three days, according to Darchula District Administration Office. Among the stranded, 100 are from Bajhang, 158 from Baitadi and 81 from Darchula.

The border bridge had opened between 7:00pm and 9:00pm on Friday and a total of 225 Nepalis were permitted to enter Darchula. Those who arrived at the border point after 10:00pm could not make it to Nepal. Following the lockdown imposed by both the Indian and Nepal governments, migrant workers had walked for three days to get to Darchula from Pithoragarh.

“We walked for days to reach here (Darchula) after businesses closed down in India. We’re stuck as the suspension bridge for crossing over to Nepal is closed,” said Padam Dhami of Baitadi’s Purchaudi Municipality. “SSB said they would allow us to cross over, but it’s unfortunate that the Nepali side didn’t open the bridge,” he said.

Kadilendra Mahata of Marma Rural Municipality, Darchula, complained that they had little to eat for three days. “We could not buy even noodles or biscuits,” Mahata said. “We slept on the roadside and on the banks of the Mahakali River,” he added.

Most of those stranded said they had lost their jobs and had no money to pay rent or feed their families.

Sunil Dhami of Apihimal Rural Municipality said he was late in returning as his contractor had delayed payment. “My contractor handed me just Rs 2,000. I wonder how I’ll survive even in Darchula,” said Dhami. “Indian police have asked us to maintain social distancing. So, we are living on the banks of the Mahakali River,” added Dhami.

Among those stranded, 38 are from Marma Rural Municipality, five from Apihimal Rural Municipality, 11 from Sailyasikhar Municipality of Darchula district, 164 are from Baitadi’s Purchayodi Municipality, 62 from Dilasaini Rural Municipality of Baitadi, 30 from Bajhang and three from Jajarkot district.

Stranded Nepalis have been shouting slogans, saying, ”Open the border and take back your citizens”. They demanded that they be allowed to return home as they were trapped in the lockdown imposed by both the countries. Darchula police took a person under control after he swam across the river into Nepal this morning.

Member of House of Representatives Ganesh Singh Thagunna said efforts were under way to rescue Nepali migrant workers stranded at Dharchula on the Indian side.

Darchula Chief District Officer Yadunath Poudel said Nepali workers were stranded on the border, as their employers didn’t pay them after India announced a three-week lockdown to contain the coronavirus contagion.

“Efforts are under way to set up quarantine by local levels and manage vehicles to bring them in,” said Poudel. He said a meeting of the High-level Coordination Committee to prevent coronavirus had already decided to rescue stranded Nepalis.