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22,000 migrant workers stuck in Kashmir due to COVID-19


In the wake of growing COVID-19 cases in Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, many migrant workers who are stuck in the region are making desperate appeals to the government for food and transportation.

Musharraf Shareef, a worker from the eastern Indian state of Bihar is stuck in Srinagar, the main city of the region, with a group of over seven people who have no food and money, and are fending for themselves.

Shareef is among many other migrant workers stuck in the region after a lockdown was announced by the government in the wake of COVID-19 outbreak.

“We earn from our day labor and then eat. When you do not have any means of income due to the lockdown, it is hard to survive in such conditions.

“Before coronavirus, it is the hunger which will kill us,” Shareef told.

Although the government in the region on Sunday started a helpline to provide help and assistance to these workers, many of these are still unable to make a call as their phones have become defunct.

“We can’t make a call from our phones now, we have no recharge. Only a small amount of money is left, and if we use it for other purpose than food, we will starve and die,” Muskeen Abbas, another worker told.

The desperation to survive in the present crisis can be gauged when a group of 25 workers last Friday walked 100 kilometers (62.1 miles) overnight from South Kashmir’s Shopian district to Surankote in the Poonch area of Jammu region.

But after reaching there, the district administration put all of them under the required quarantine to avoid possible contraction or transmission of the virus.

An official of the labor department of the region said that they cannot allow anyone of these workers to move as they can easily become carriers of the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

“We understand that almost 22,000 workers who are stuck here are facing hard times but they can contact us, and we can arrange food and necessary items for them,” the official told condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to the media

“But at this point of time, it is dangerous for them and for others to move from one place to another,” said the official.

As a measure, the administration has already placed strict restrictions on the movement of people while sealing all borders and air traffic and has advised people not to move from their homes unnecessarily.

The pandemic in the region has a seen a surge from last five days taking the tally to 45 cases from initial 13 cases reported last Wednesday. Over 6,000 patients have been put under observation, while two have died, and other two have recovered so far.

The coronavirus emerged in Wuhan, China last December and has spread to at least 177 countries and territories.

The number of confirmed cases worldwide has now surpassed 732,000, while the death toll is more than 34,600, and over 154,600 have recovered, according to data compiled by U.S.-based Johns Hopkins University.

Despite the rising number of cases, most who become infected suffer only mild symptoms and recover.

Disputed region

Kashmir is held by India and Pakistan in parts and claimed both in full. A small sliver of Kashmir is also held by China.

Since they were partitioned in 1947, the two countries have fought three wars-in 1948, 1965 and 1971-two of them over Kashmir.

Some Kashmiri groups in Jammu and Kashmir have been fighting against the Indian rule for independence, or unification with neighboring Pakistan.

According to several human rights organizations, thousands of people have reportedly been killed in the conflict in the region since 1989.

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