Migrant workers must be given new livelihood opportunities

Rajan Samuel | Updated on April 16, 2020 Published on April 16, 2020

Along with support measures, those who underwent reverse migration from cities should be provided with jobs in their villages once the lockdown ends

As we are seeing images of thousands of daily-wage labourers walking with families and their meagre belongings from metro cities to their villages. While many fear the catastrophe that can accur if even one of them is a Covid-19 carrier , others can understand their need to flee. These people work in the unorganised sector, many live in make-shift arrangement earning hand to mouth, their documentation refers to their native villages, which leads to the fear they might not be able to get the subsided ration being provided by the government.

But more than anything, it is the fear of being stranded and left alone, far from home. The sheer number of people desperately trying to get home, even though it could be fatal, tells us that they didn’t move to the city by choice. They love their native towns and villages, and the families they have left behind.But the opportunity to earn and provide for them did not allow them to go back. It is these times of uncertainty and crises that has forced them to take that step.

Relief measures

The question now is, what will happen to these people? Will they have enough to survive in their villages, will they want to come back; or rather, should they come back to the cities after the crisis is over? They don’t have an easy life in there, and in return, the cities don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate them. In this case, if they are provided with livelihood opportunities in their villages, they can sustain with their families.

The government is addressing some of the challenges faced by migrating families by providing them food, health facilities, conditional cash transfers and other immediate relief materials. The State government has unoccupied homes along with schools and other government facilities which are being used to provide temporary and transitional shelter facilities. These are all short-term measures that the government is providing to the migrant families.

Opportunities for livelihood

However, for those who have succeeded in reaching their villages, as the situation after the lockdown normalises, the lack of livelihood opportunity in the villages will force them back to cities. As, we plan to put the country back on its feet after this crisis, the government should think of intermediate plans and provisions for the displaced and underprivileged families. The government should make policy changes to provide solutions and alternate sources of livelihood within villages. Grass-roots level enterprises dealing with livestock and dairy should be brought in to force on an immediate basis, allowing secure and quick employment.

Housing is at the heart of healthy and sustained living. It creates an asset which is critical in a long-lasting, life-changing differences in the families. These families need to have a foothold in their own communities, which will strengthen the roots of the country and hence provide large-scale and long-term growth for all. The government can identify and collaborate with housing finance companies and micro finance companies to provide loan to these families based on their affordability and requirement. Organisations like Habitat India can bridge the gap between the families and the government by delivering housing and household support services to these migrant families. A decent shelter and opportunities to earn a livelihood within their villages will be a key in ensuring that every affected family is able to stand strong in this crisis and create a safety net for the family.

The writer is the Managing Director of non-profit Habitat for Humanity India

Published on April 16, 2020

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