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Migrant worker crisis in Delhi

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

By Priyanka Dahiya, in Delhi.

A nationwide lockdown in India over the coronavirus pandemic is the largest lockdown in the world that has caused mayhem for 65 million migrants and workers across India. Many countries have encouraged social distancing and announced lockdowns to prevent the coronavirus spread and it was not a revelation that India would too follow suit. However, the unpleasant surprise came when the lockdown was announced and implemented within hours of each other. This meant closure of state borders, no public transport amidst of course, no jobs and almost no food for the migrants. Migrants have no jobs as their employers had to close their businesses, shops and factories. In cases, where migrant workers own their business like a street vendor, food carts etc., it is not any better. With limited prospects for food and money in New Delhi in the 21-day lockdown, thousands of people and families started commuting to their villages on foot. As the biggest number of migrants comes from Uttar Pradesh (UP), a neighboring state to New Delhi, the chief minister of the state tried to arrange public buses for the workers and the sight at that bus top was heart wrenching. Picture below:

​In India, more than 80% of all employed persons make a living by working in the informal sector, with only 6.5% in the formal sector and 0.8% in the household sector[1] says a report by the International Labour Organisation. It is estimated that more than 25% of the working population in New Delhi works in the informal sector[2], however, the actual number will be much more as many workers do not have their names in the government records.

The life of migrants who work in construction, taxis, rickshaws, housekeeping and other sectors has come to a sudden halt. Out of desperation, some left for their villages and many remain stranded in Delhi with very limited means. Many of these are in hand to mouth situations, and most of them have no food supplies, let alone medicines or hand sanitizers. They do not know what the future holds for them. The urgency for the migrants, is not so much about contracting COVID-19 or not having access to medical services. They are anxious and stressed about the basics – food and shelter. And help is pouring in from all corners, but with the magnitude of the problem and the large-scale population, the help available may not be enough.

As the coronavirus continues to spread across the country, there is no immediate end to the problems that come with it. Therefore, the efforts need to be sustained and scaled up. The Delhi government cannot solve the problem alone. It is comforting to see civil society, government and private sector coming together to help the migrant and marginalized population. But we need to have a plan, because for the migrants, it is just the start of the problem. They need food, but they also need housing, jobs and access to medical services and each person must acknowledge their privilege and come forward to offer support. The Daily Wage Worker Online Platform provides a compilation of government, NGO and corporate efforts to help workers across the country, states and cities of India. Check out the Delhi pages where you can partner and contribute.

[1] Women and Men in the Informal Economy – A Statistical Picture (Third edition), report by ILO, accessed at


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