RAMESH Ram used to earn ₹500 per day working as a contract labourer at the Alang ship-breaking yard in Gujarat. He sent most of the money home. These family remittances at regular intervals kept his folks going in Bihar’s Kaimur district. But the second wave of the pandemic forced Ram, and thousands like him, to return to his village with no source of income to fall back upon.

Today, Ram is trying to find any kind of work so that his family of six can survive. For lakhs of people across the country who used to depend on family remittances, two waves of Covid-19 have dealt a bad hand.

When we talk of family remittances, what comes to mind is billions of dollars that Indians working across the world transfer to India. But we hardly think of family remittances by internal migrants that serve as a crucial lifeline for the dependants. These may be low in value but they play an important role in meeting basic household needs and other expenses for the families.

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The pandemic has resulted in job losses in many sectors of the economy in most countries, probably the most affected have been the migrant labour wherever they are employed, whether it is in a foreign country or within India.

Pandemic’s effect on international remittances

The pandemic had its effect on international family remittances too. India received around $82billion last year in remittances from Indians working abroad, the highest for any country in the world. This was a marginal drop from 2019. It may go down further this year and impact the lives of people who depend on these family remittances. For instance, Kerala is estimated to have received around $14-15 billion, which amounted to around 30% of the State’s gross domestic product.

With many international migrant workers back home in India because of the pandemic, the remittances will take a hit and so will the livelihoods of the people who may not return to their previous jobs.

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COVID’s impact on internal migrants

When the first Covid-19 pandemic-induced lockdown was announced by the Indian government in March 2020, millions of migrant workers, out of work and food, started moving back to their homes in different states. The scenes of migrant workers and their families walking hundreds of miles on foot shocked the world.

It was during this time that our NGO partners Dakshas and Seva Bharathi helped migrant labourers and their families travelling from cities to their native places. Online donations played an important role to support the migrants’ bus, train and flight tickets.

Many migrant labourers returned to cities and towns in search of work as the first wave of the virus waned, but they were again left in the lurch during the second wave.

The state of migrant labour remittances

According to the last census figures, marriage and employment are the two major reasons for migration within the country. This comprises both within the state and outside it. The 2017 Economic Survey estimates the inter-state migrant worker population at over 60 million. These are the people who moved from one state to another, mostly in search of jobs. If one includes the inter-district migration, it could be as high as 14 million.

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According to the 2017 Survey, domestic remittance dependency was high in states like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Odisha. According to several studies, internal migration takes place among people who are likely to be poor and less educated. The volume of family remittances was estimated to be around ₹1.5 trillion.

Now many migrant labourers and their families are facing a loss of livelihood, mounting debt and hunger. Adoption of digital technology by the migrant workers and their families to transfer money provides a fair idea of the falling remittance flows. According to the latest figures from domestic money transfer companies, there has been a decline of about 30% in May this year.

The International Day of Family Remittances (IDFR) is observed on 16 June by the United Nations. International migrant workers comprise 200 million whose remittances support over 800 million family members. The remittance flows have increased five-fold over the past 20 years.

There has been an increase even in internal migrant remittances in the last few years, but the pandemic has dealt a severe blow affecting millions of families across the world and India.

Migrant worker’s families need your support #UniteForMigrantWorkers with Indus Action and Bhumi.

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