The Homeward Journey

The Homeward Journey

Navigating social media has been grim these last two months. It is flooded with images of migrant workers trying to reach their homes thousands of kilometres away — walking home; lying on the road, some listless, a few dead; tumbling out of cement mixers; carrying their aged and their children; crushed to death on roads and on railway tracks; crying because they couldn’t reach home to a loved one on time. How miserably we have failed our migrant workers! It is depressing. All of it. 

So Sunday was a bit of a silver lining. While it began with an information of migrant workers stranded at a brick kiln reaching out for help, it ended on a pretty positive note.

Sunday, May 17

We received a lead that 78 migrants — 24 men, 26 women and 28 children — were stranded in 3 villages in Veeraghattam Mandal in Srikakulam district in Andhra Pradesh. These 78 were from Odisha — Bolangir, Nuapada and Kalahandi districts — and needed help. Help to get back home. Phone numbers of two of the workers were also shared on our timeline on twitter.

This request had come from an NGO Mahila Margadarshi, after we posted a story wherein Oxfam India had managed to  arrange for travel of a few migrant workers from Berhampur. They were walking from Tamil Nadu, hadn’t eaten for almost two days and were gearing up to walk another 300-400 kms to their homes in Bolangir, Nuapada and Kalahandi districts. Perhaps the names of the district made the NGO reach out to us.

Our humanitarian team sprung into action, as soon as they were informed. The workers worked at brick kilns and were now stuck. Until Saturday the kiln owner had provided then with rice and 200 Rs for vegetables. But this came with a disclaimer, that the amount he spent on their food would be deducted from their wages in future. Gokul Satnami, one of the migrant workers informed Vinuthna Patibandla, our humanitarian officer, that they tried to reach out to several people but no one came to their help. Another worker Ajay said they went to the Mandal Revenue office too, for support but nothing happened.

While Vinuthna started coordinating with our partner NGOs to start the process of their return, Bimal Prasad Pandia from our Odisha office contacted the State Relief Commissioner (SRC), Pradeep Jena. The Commissioner advised that the workers first be brought to the Odisha border after which the Rayagada Superintendent of Police would arrange for their food and bus travel to their villages around 400 kms from the border.

So the next step was getting the workers from their brick kilns to Rayagada. Calls were made to MLAs, adviser to the AP government, collector, the state disaster management authority; finally the workers were located, their food for Sunday night arranged and two buses for Monday morning fixed. This couldn't have been possible without the volunteers and our partner NGOs working in the two states.  

Monday, May 18

The 78 migrants reached Rayagada in the afternoon. They were happy to be on a bus finally heading home. They sent us a video clip — nothing much, just a few seconds video of them sitting in the bus. It was a sight for sore eyes!

Bimal made sure he was in constant touch with both the migrants and the Rayagada collector, who was personally supervising the logistics. “The support from the administration is huge considering they were also involved in preparing for Cyclone Amphan,” said Bimal. Food was provided while they waited for their bus to Bolangir. The original plan was that they would leave later that evening but due to some logistical issue they could only leave on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the other set of migrants from Berhampur who had left on a bus on Monday morning were about to reach their homes in a couple of hours that night.

Tuesday, May 19

The bus from Bolangir finally left on Tuesday afternoon. In the given circumstances it is a little challenging to get bus drivers who would agree to drive buses — one is the fear of the coronavirus itself, and the other was the impending Cyclone Amphan heading towards Odisha. It finally made landfall near Haldi in West Bengal on Wednesday evening.    

The Rayagada District  Administration deployed buses from its own fleet and departed at 2pm. It would take them at least 10 hours to reach home. They were expected to reach by Tuesday midnight.


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