what it would be like to settle down back in India.

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He never imagined he would return like this: laid off, in debt and pursued by a


sickness racing around the globe.
Home was a small village ringed by coconut palms and paddy elds on the India's

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southwestern coast. His father, pushed by poverty, had been the rst to leave for
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the Persian Gulf in search of work. Later Ramakrishnan, 47, and his four brothers
all made the same voyage.

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"Ever since I was young, I wanted to go," Ramakrishnan said. "I used to tell my
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father, 'Just take me with you to the gulf.' "

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The family was part of a vast migration from South Asia to countries ush with
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wealth but short on labor. The migrants worked to raise gleaming cities in the
desert, and built the schools, hospitals and power plants that helped transform
collections of villages and port towns into modern Arab countries.

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Now, one of the largest migration corridors in the world is owing in reverse. The
coronavirus pandemic and crashing oil prices have led to mass layoffs in gulf
states, leaving foreign workers vulnerable and in some cases destitute. Out of
money and fearing the virus, hundreds of thousands have returned home.

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With a vaccine still months away and the number of coronavirus cases rising
around the world, there is little prospect that anything will return to normal any
time soon for the world's 164 million migrant workers who cross borders.

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About one-third of them come from South Asia, and India is the single largest
source of such migrant labor in the world.
Kerala, the small southern state where the Athekkatils live, plays an outsize role in
such ows. An estimated 2.5 million Keralites were working abroad before the

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arrival of the virus, the vast majority in the Persian Gulf. The pandemic is pushing

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them home in record numbers: As many as 500,000 migrants and their families

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are expected to return by the end of the year, the largest such exodus ever,
experts say.
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Nearly 400,000 people have already returned to the state from the gulf since May,
according to data provided by the Kerala government agency responsible for
overseas workers. At least half of the returnees said they were coming back
because they had lost their jobs.
Meanwhile, the pandemic has also prompted some countries in the region to

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accelerate plans to "nationalize" their workforces - in other words, to reduce their
reliance on foreign migrants altogether.
The workers who came home are struggling. Indians who lost their jobs in the
gulf are returning to an economy crippled by rising infections and by the

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aftermath of one of the world's strictest lockdowns.




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