The Petrapole border between India and Bangladesh | Photo: Madhuparna Das | ThePrint
The Petrapole integrated check post between India and Bangladesh | Photo: Madhuparna Das | ThePrint
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Kolkata: The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has written to the Mamata Banerjee-led government of West Bengal, seeking permission to bring back 2,680 migrants from the state stranded in Bangladesh since the Covid-19 lockdown began in March.

In a letter dated 7 August, the MEA stated that 2,399 people want to return to their villages in Bengal through the Petrapole-Benapole integrated check post (ICP), while 281 people want to enter through Phulbari-Banglabandha border in north Bengal. It said it had sent repeated letters to the Bengal government on this issue.

The 7 August letter, sent by MEA Additional Secretary Vikram Doraiswami to Bengal Chief Secretary Rajiva Sinha, stated that the stranded persons are “unskilled or semi-skilled” labourers, and have been living in “extreme distress” under the lockdown, with no financial support.

The Centre has offered to arrange trains and vehicles for them once the Bengal government approves, according to the letter, a copy of which was accessed by ThePrint.

“They are all from weaker sections of our society. Many are living in extreme distress, including sheltering in schools verandahs or public parks, and are increasingly desperate to return home. It is not feasible for them to fly home, they can only hope to return if they are allowed to travel by rail or road,” it said.

ThePrint tried to contact Chief Secretary Sinha through text messages and calls, but didn’t receive a response.

However, a top Bengal government official, who did not want to be identified, told ThePrint that a call was yet to be taken on allowing the migrants to return as Bangladesh is a Covid hotspot.

“We need to screen all of them properly. We are handling issues one after another. A few days back, we resolved the international trade deadlock at Petrapole ICP and other ICPs across the state. We will also look into the migrant-related matter soon,” said the official.

Also read: Covid symptoms, prescription not enough, Kolkata residents face week’s wait or more for test

Bengal’s cautiousness

In the early days of the lockdown, the Mamata Banerjee government was reluctant to bring back its migrant labourers stuck in other states, fearing the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Ministry of Home Affairs had, in fact, written a series of letters asking the state to allow them to return.

The Bengal government also suspended international trade and truck movement at the ICPs across the state, including Petrapole, the largest of its kind. However, truck movement was allowed last month in small pools, complying with Covid protocols.

The state has also suspended air traffic from six hotspot cities until 15 August. It does not allow train and air traffic on the two days of the week when it observes lockdown.

Also read: How it took Mamata govt 2 press meets and 1 tweet in 6 hrs to announce 7 lockdown dates


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