A group of Indian expatriates in Nigeria have called on their government to urgently make efforts to repatriate them; even as they described the COVID-19 situation in Nigeria as terrible.
The group of nearly 200 people, made up of mainly Indians from the Kerala region; have been waiting for days for a signal from the government. Part of their urgent wish to return home is because the group comprises of pregnant women and children; elderly people with underlying health challenges; those who have lost their jobs and those whose visas have expired in the last three months.
However, they have also decried the worrisome state of the fight against COVID-19 in Nigeria.
Indeed, 1st News can report that the expats have consistently made their concerns public in reports monitored in the Indian media.
Also, an Indian medical doctor, Dr Arun Gangadhar; who runs a hospital in Lagos has painted a gloomy picture of the COVID-19 situation in Nigeria.
“The general situation in Nigeria is very bad. About 61 per cent of the cases being reported here have no epidemiological links which points to community transmission. Soon the cases will peak. The government’s isolation facilities are not satisfactory and the health system is not equipped to handle the pandemic. Every day, the threshold for sustainability is reducing,” said Dr Gangadhar.
Equally important, Dr. Gangadhar is responsible for exchanging correspondence with authorities on behalf of the 200-member group for repatriation.
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Meanwhile, reports in the Indian media indicate that the expatriates in Nigeria are living cautiously. They attribute this to the cases of COVID-19 in Nigeria described as rising ‘‘swiftly and unchecked by a broken healthcare system.’’
Also, the reports state that rising unemployment, scarcity in medical supplies and reports of armed robbery especially in Nigeria’s North; are making a lot of expatriates to think about returning home.
Furthermore, many among the group willing to return home are vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their age; as well as other underlying health conditions. Therefore, they are not eager to take the risk of getting tested and treated here in Nigeria. In addition, around 40 per cent of the group are those who have lost their jobs in the economic downturn. Therefore, they cannot afford to continue living in Nigeria or afford to pay for medical treatment.
Consequently, the group has called on the Indian government to consider allowing them come back via a chartered flight which they have arranged.
Dr Gangadhar disclosed that they have been able to strike a deal with Air Peace. The airline is scheduled to fly home Nigerians stranded in Bengaluru and Delhi later this month. Based on their request, the group received a communication from Air Peace on May 15; stating its readiness to fly them to Kochi if it gets a landing permit from the Indian authorities. That way, instead of flying an empty aircraft to India, Air Peace can transport the stranded Keralites to Cochin; then fly onward to Bengaluru and Delhi to pick up the Nigerians for the return journey home.
Dr Gangadhar said, “We have handed over the letter of the airline to the Indian high commission for approval. They acknowledged the letter and said they will get back to us. We have also sent copies to the Kerala health department which has forwarded it to the COVID war-room at the Centre. Till date, we haven’t got a response.”
“This is the easiest way for us to reach home. All the government has to do is give landing permit to the airline at Cochin airport,” said 54-year-old Shaji Jacob, who works with a trading firm in Lagos and is desperate to return home.
Jacob’s family, back in Alappuzha in Kerala, are anxious about his continued stay in Nigeria.
“I have underlying health conditions like cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes. Naturally, they are worried. The health system here is not as efficient as it is back home. There are no adequate ventilators, testing kits or PPE kits for doctors. People are scared to go to hospitals even if they suffer from COVID-19 symptoms,” he said.