As Nepal closed its border with India as part of COVID-19 measures, hundreds of Nepalese citizens trying to return home are left stranded on the border crossing between the two countries.
There are an estimated two million Nepalese citizens who work in India. And when the Nepal government shut down its border with India in a bid to halt the spread of the coronavirus, Nepalese nationals found themselves unable to return to their homes.
The fleeing Nepal citizens (mostly low-income workers) have found themselves stranded in border points at Nepal’s 1,700 km border with India. In normal circumstances, there is free-crossing between the two countries.
The mass exodus is a result of the sudden and strict measures taken by the Indian government last week. India announced a 21-day lockdown on its 1.3 billion population last week, halting public transportation and asking people to remain indoors.
As a result, thousands of migrant workers from across the country (both Indian and foreign) were forced to walk home in large groups as they were faced with unemployment.
There have been reports of people swimming across the Mahakali river to reach Nepal, risking possible death rather than sleep on the ground on the other side of the border.
The Nepalese authorities have announced that the borders will remain closed for at least another week, and anyone who does cross into Nepal has to quarantine for a period of 14 days.
Nepalese media have reported that some local government authorities have resorted to painting red X’s on the houses of those who have recently returned from abroad, which leads to stigma within the community as they are perceived (even if it is wrongly so) as “disease carriers”.
As of the end of March, there have only been five reported cases of the COVID-19 in Nepal, but the real figure is thought to be higher due to the small number of tests which have been conducted so far. The government imposed preventative measures shortly after the second reported case.