Corona times: A camp that cares during corona crisis

Respite for the rescued

Politics

April 9, 2020

/ By / Mumbai

Sheltered from the storm: For the 285 inhabitants, this migrant camp in Versova has come as an unexpected boon (MIG photos/ Varsha Singh)

A migrant camp at Versova in north-western Mumbai is a temporary home to many migrant workers and homeless of the city.

Sporting a green salwar kameez (an Indian dress), Lakshmi is a middle aged single woman working in Thane, a large suburb of Mumbai. Separated from her husband, she had been living with her mother and working at a factory in Wagle Estate in Thane and also used to work as a domestic help. On the day the lockdown was announced, Lakshmi tried to get back to her village near Gorakhpur in Uttar Pradesh as things were getting tough in Thane.

However, as luck would have it, Lakshmi could not get a train to get back home from Mumbai’s Lokmanya Tilak Terminus and with all trains suspended for three weeks of the lockdown and she was stranded at the railway station itself, with nowhere to go and no one to turn to for help in this large megalopolis that itself has been struggling with the unprecedented crisis wrought by the coronavirus pandemic.

Fortunately for Lakshmi, some police officers brought her from the railway station to a migrant camp that had been set up at Versova in north-western Mumbai for people like her who had been caught unprepared by the lockdown.

Spread over an area of 3000 sqm, this camp has been set up by Harmony Foundation, an NGO in Mumbai. In association with the director general home guards and civil defence volunteers, the camp not only provides food and shelter to the needy but has also made arrangement for basic necessities such as mattresses, bedsheets, mosquito repellants, mobile toilets and fans.

With mattresses separated by nearly two metres, the camp seems well organised and the migrants staying there are taken care of, with three square meals as well as tea being served to them.

Though set up in a rush, the camp is well organised, clean and has all basic facilities

With a capacity to accommodate around 500 people, the camp already has 285 migrants staying there. Set up at no cost to the state, the camp has several organisations that are supporting it in various ways, though it is administered by the civil defence department of the state government. “The capacity of the camp is about 500 and 285 have already been accommodated till now. We bring people here with the help of BMC and police who find such people who have nowhere to go and with the help of BEST buses they are brought to the camp. They will be here till the day of lockdown but in case the lockdown is extended they can stay here after that too,” Kiran Jadhav, an official of the civil defence department, tells Media India Group.

Jadhav goes on to say that the camp is safe for the people who stay there as well as those working there or the volunteers supporting the initiative. ‘‘When the migrants or homeless are brought here, a doctor checks them up for Coronavirus and other illnesses and only when they test negative are they allowed to stay,’’ says Jadhav.

The camp has also made medical arrangements in case somebody falls ill. “We also have medical facilities over here. We have also tied up with BMC and government doctors who can help anyone who falls ill here. If there is a serious matter we can take the patient hospital we can take the patient to Cooper hospital that is just five minutes from the camp,” Jadhav adds.

The camp does seem relatively well-organised and fulfilling its needs, though some of the migrants complain about minor problems that Jadhav says are teething troubles which are being resolved as they come. “They don’t serve us tea early in the morning. That is the first thing that we need,” is one of the refrains. “There are too many mosquitoes, please ask them to make arrangements for pedestal fans,” adds another.

Where are the migrants?

Even though the initiative has been welcomed by the residents of the camp and the society in general, the very small number of migrants staying there is indeed surprising for a city of 15 million, with a significant share of migrant and homeless population. Being one of the first such initiatives in the city, it is very unlikely that the migrants have found other alternatives to stay while waiting for the lockdown to end. Jadhav himself does not have any answers. He says that may be more people would come if they heard about it of course if the police, the municipal authorities or any NGO brings them over. ‘‘We can add even more room, should they come,’’ he says.

For now, Lakshmi seems relaxed enough at the camp and with good reason. The camp has offered her a shelter at a time when thousands of migrant workers across the country have been running helter skelter to get back to their villages in order to survive the lockdown.

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