Roundup: Nepal, India join hands to manage stranded nationals across border amid COVID-19 lockdown

Nepal and India have entered into cooperation to manage the stranded Nepalis at different border points amid the nationwide lockdown in both countries to fight COVID-19 pandemic.

Nepal enforced a week-long nationwide lockdown since March 24 which has been extended till April 7, whereas India announced a 21-day lockdown on March 25 leaving thousands of Nepali nationals, who were on the way back home, stranded at border points.

Dr Rajan Bhattarai, foreign relations advisor to Nepali Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, told Xinhua on Wednesday that Nepal and India have agreed to manage food and shelter to the people stranded at different border points during the lockdown.

"The high-level agreement reached between the two countries has already entered into implementation since couple of days. Indian authorities have started providing food and shelter to Nepalis, while we are providing the same to stranded Indians in our side," Bhattarai said.

According to Bhattarai, the largest number of Nepalis are stranded at the Indian side of Darchula district in far western Nepal, where over 800 people have been gathered since last few days. It was reported that a couple of Nepali nationals even tried to swam back home through the Mahakali River, which divides Nepal and India, but were later arrested by Nepali police.

Similarly, nearly 400 Nepalis are stranded at Sunauli border point, near the city of Bhairahawa in Province 5, and two dozen Nepalis are stranded at Kailali border point in Province 7.

There is no exact number of stranded Nepalis at the border points as many people are still arriving after days of struggling walk from different Indian cities even amid lockdown, said Bhattarai.

Thousands of people particularly from Nepal's western part work and live in Indian cities as daily labors and return home only during festivals.

"Not just Nepalis are stranded in the Indian side, but over 600 Indians are stranded in Nepal in few locations. Our local authorities have managed food and shelter for them. We have such cooperation during the crisis period," he said.

Both countries have agreed not to allow cross-border movement until the lockdown is over as it poses a greater risk of spreading the infection among family members and the community.

However, some are of the view that stranded citizens from across the border should be brought back.

"Nepal should bring back its stranded citizens and arrange quarantine facility to prevent the spread of possible infection. Local and provincial governments should work on this immediately," Dr Khadga KC, an international relations expert, told Xinhua.

"Arrangement of food and shelter by the Indian authorities is a welcoming step, but it's only a temporary solution. The best idea is to bring the Nepali nationals back and ensure them good environment with health facilities," KC added.

Baburam Bhattarai, former Nepali prime minister, also wrote in his social media post that "Isn't this state's responsibility to let the stranded citizens enter their own country? They should be allowed to cross the border and should be kept in quarantine rather."

Nepal and India, which share open border, have closed all the border points except for the cargo movement to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19.

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