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Coronavirus: Indian state leader calls for repatriation of migrant workers in UAE

The chief minister of Kerala sent a letter to Prime Minister Modi complaining of 'inadequate isolation and quarantine facilities' in the UAE
Foreign workers make up around 80 percent of the Gulf state's population (AFP)

The chief minister of India's Kerala state has called for the urgent repatriation of thousands of Indian workers in the United Arab Emirates, lambasting the oil rich-nation's "inadequate" response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kerala's Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan posted a letter on Twitter on Monday in which he urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to repatriate Indian nationals working in the Arabian Gulf.

'The majority of Keralites are blue-collar workers and living in crowded facilities in Dubai'

- Pinarayi Vijayan, Kerala's chief minister

"We have [been] assured that testing and quarantine needs of the Keralites who are returning will be undertaken by the State Government," Vijayan said.

The letter came after Vijayan complained to Modi last week about "inadequate isolation and quarantine facilities" in the UAE.

"Most of these requests convey that preventive measures and quarantine methods implemented in Dubai are neither effective nor adequate," Vijayan said in a letter seen by Al Jazeera Arabic.

Roughly three million Indian nationals work in the UAE, according to the United Nations. Of them, nearly a million are from the southwestern state of Kerala.

"The majority of Keralites are blue-collar workers and living in crowded facilities in Dubai," Vijayan wrote in the letter.

"Therefore the probability of spreading the disease is very high."

The Dubai-based Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre filed a petition in the Indian High Court last week, calling on the government to take action and repatriate its citizens.

"We know of 10,000 people just from Kerala who want to come back home," Haris Beeran, a lawyer representing the petitioners, told the UAE-based The National newspaper.

"Many workers no longer have jobs [and] some people are on visit visas that have expired. They don't have any means to live in the UAE and would rather return to their family at this time."

No repatriation until end of lockdown

However, in response to the letter India's ambassador to the UAE said any repatriation efforts will not take place until after India's nationwide lockdown is lifted.

"Once the lockdown in India is lifted, we will certainly help them get back to their hometowns and their families," Ambassador Pavan Kapoor told the UAE-based Gulf News on Saturday.

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Abu Dhabi, which has reported more than 4,500 Covid-19 cases and 25 deaths, has issued a warning to countries refusing to repatriate their workers, saying it would take possible action against them.

"Several countries have not been responsive about allowing back their citizens who have applied to return home under the current circumstances," the Ministry of Human Resources and Emiratisation said, according to Reuters.

As elsewhere in the Gulf and wider Middle East, the abuse and exploitation of migrant workers from Africa and Asia has been highlighted as the world fights to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Critics of the Kafala system, which governs the lives of migrant workers and restricts their freedom of movement, have warned that overcrowded and unsanitary housing conditions could accelerate the spread of the disease.