Thousands of emigrants from the Telugu states continue to be stuck in the Middle East.
The Vande Bharat Mission (VBM), the Centre’s repatriation effort which entered its fourth phase in July, has not helped a vast majority of them.
Many of them, who hail from lower middle class backgrounds, have been unemployed since March due to the economic slowdown.
There is anger among Telugu immigrants that they are being ignored in favour of those from states like Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Of the VBM 926 flights in the fourth phase, 255 are headed for Kerala and 107 for Tamil Nadu.
Hyderabad will receive 64 and Visakhapatnam and Vijayawada 11. Around half the flights to the Telugu states originate from the Middle East.
Many emigrants have created Twitter accounts only to appeal to Telugu politicians, ministers and officials for assistance. They tag ministers such as K.T. Rama Rao, the office of Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao, and the Indian Embassy or consulates in their countries. Some have even tagged actor Sonu Sood, who helped guest workers a few weeks ago.
M. Ali Aboud, an emigrant in Dubai, said the consulate-general had been unhelpful. “It was going well when I got a ticket on a Dubai-Hyderabad flight. For some inexplicable reason, it got cancelled,” he said.
Twitter user Syed Fazullah, who lives in Dammam, Saudi Arabia, has been pleading with officials and politicians to help him get a ticket to Hyderabad on July 30.
M. Bheem Reddy, an activist for TS emigrants’ welfare, said that based on Lok Sabha data of 2018, the state has at least 15 lakh emigrants in the Middle East. “Based on reports of unemployment in these countries, I believe at least a quarter of these people will come home. According to official figures, less than 9,000 have been brought back. There is a huge need for flights to Hyderabad,” he said.
Emigrants tried to charter flights, which are generally more expensive than the VBM. They are expected to pay Telangana Tourism the fee up front for institutional quarantine to get permissions.
Each passenger is expected to pay around `8,000 for a week in a single-occupancy room and `6,000 for a shared room. Reddy said, “This creates a further burden on the emigrants, many of whom have exhausted all their savings.”