Coronavirus: Indian Church urged to care for stranded migrants
Catholic bishops of Ranchi, eastern India, have appealed their fellow prelates to reach out to millions of migrant laborers stranded in the country by the 21-day national lockdown.
“These are difficult times and even as we live in lockdown and make every attempt to keep ourselves safe, thousands of migrants are stuck where they are, not knowing where to go or have hit the road with their families and children without transport, monetary means or alimentary provisions,” says the March 28 appeal from Jesuit Archbishop Felix Toppo of Ranchi and Auxiliary Bishop Theodore Mascarenhas.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at 8 pm on March 24 ordered the nationwide lockdown from the midnight of that day as way to prevent spread of the Covid-19. It limits the movement of the country’s 1.37 billion people for 21 days.
The lockdown was preceded by a 14-hour voluntary public curfew on March 22.
The lockdown has caught millions of migrants and daily wagers off guard, leaving them no time to return home. Hundreds of thousands of them are now seen stranded at bus or railway stations or walking to their villages hundreds of kilometers away.
The bishops of Ranchi, who made the appeal a day after Pope Francis conducted “Urbi et Orbi” (to the city [of Rome] and to the world), the most solemn prayer in the Catholic Church.
Their letter begins with part of the Pope’s reflection on the grave threat facing mankind.
“We write to you as pastors from Jharkhand whose people have been serving often in very humble but faithful ways throughout our country,” the prelates’ appeal pleads.
The bishops noted that many stranded migrants now in trouble are from Jharkhand. “While we are all worried about our own safety,” they said, “these poor people are the ones suffering the brunt the most.”
They also say the migrants want to return home because they have become a burden for people they served.
“Many have become like Mary and Joseph with ‘no place.’ The darkness faced by these migrant populations is much thicker and distressing than ours,” the appeal explains.
Observing that the Church “has always been in the forefront in all calamities, bringing succor and aid to all people in need,” the prelates appealed other bishops to help “our people irrespective of religion, language or group.”
They then suggested several ways for the Church in other parts of the country to help stranded migrants.
They want the dioceses to advise their people to treat the migrants with care and concern.
“Kindly direct church institutions, schools and other campuses to organize shelters and accommodation wherever possible,” the appeal says.
It was the local churches to lobby with state governments and local administration “to identify and help these poor people.”
It wants local church groups to arrange meals and clothing for the stranded migrants and help them connect to their people in their native villages. A practical step is to contact the migrants’ parish priests to reassure the families of their safety.
Keeping these migrants “safe is important for staying safe” the bishops said, noting, “if these people become exposed to Covid-19, the rest of the country will be even more vulnerable”.
The Economic Survey of India in its 2016-2017 report noted that Jharkhand has the highest outflow of the working-age population among states in the country. Migrant has cost the state lost close to 5 million people in the working-age between 2001 and 2011.