‘They are invisible’: the migrant workers struggling in wake of India’s Covid response

As a new Guardian documentary explores the impact of one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, we speak to some of those who, like millions across the country, were left poorer and more vulnerable than ever

When Ram Yadav fled India’s strict countrywide lockdown imposed in March 2020, he was one of the lucky ones, managing to hitch rides from Delhi on trucks going in the direction of his village near Kanpur, 400km (250 miles) away.

An estimated 10 million workers were forced to walk home, travelling on foot via fields, forests and highways in the scorching sun.

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Revealed: migrant workers in Qatar forced to pay billions in recruitment fees

Guardian investigation finds labourers – including those on World Cup-related projects – were left with huge debts

Low-wage migrant workers have been forced to pay billions of dollars in recruitment fees to secure their jobs in World Cup host nation Qatar over the past decade, a Guardian investigation has found.

Bangladeshi men migrating to Qatar are likely to have paid about $1.5bn (£1.14bn) in fees, and possibly as high as $2bn, between 2011 and 2020. Nepali men are estimated to have paid around $320m, and possibly more than $400m, in the four years between mid-2015 to mid-2019.

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Britain hands billions to projects linked to labour abuse and climate damage

UK Export Finance used £5.24bn of taxpayer money to fund overseas energy and infrastructure ventures – despite its own review raising concerns

The British government has provided more than £5bn in the past three years to overseas energy and infrastructure projects linked to labour abuses and environmental damage, according to documents and interviews with workers.

The funding – a combination of loans and guarantees – comes from the government’s export credit agency, UK Export Finance (UKEF), a government department to help UK companies access business contracts overseas.

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Low turnout for India’s national two-day strike as 50 million join protests

Unions say strike over ‘anti-worker’ government policies a success despite limited impact, with far fewer than predicted taking part

An estimated 50 million people joined India’s two-day national strike this week, a fraction of the number expected to protest.

Bank, factory and public transport workers disrupted services in six states on Monday and Tuesday, but the strike had limited impact across the rest of the country.

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Fruit pickers lured to Portugal by the dream of a ‘raspberry passport’

Farm workers from south Asia describe exploitative conditions at the heart of Europe’s soft fruits industry

Three days after Sagar* arrived as a worker in Portugal from Nepal, he began to worry he had made a terrible mistake. “I had expectations to get good work, good money,” he says. “But the reality was different.”

The only job Sagar, 21, could find was on one of the country’s berry farms in Odemira, a rural region on the south-west coast. Earning less than the legal minimum wage to work 16-hour days in 40C heat, he knows he is being exploited. But quitting could jeopardise his residency application – and that’s a risk he cannot afford to take.

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India’s ‘pencil village’ counts the cost of Covid school closures

Ukhoo village in Kashmir supplies 90% of wood used in the country’s pencils, but the industry, a major employer in the area, has seen a dramatic drop in demand

School closures in India during the pandemic have left their mark on more than the children who have seen delays to their learning. In one Kashmiri village the impact has been catastrophic on employment.

Pick up a pencil anywhere across India and it is likely to come from the poplar trees of Ukhoo.

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‘Renting the Taj Mahal’: the fight to save Darjeeling’s toy train

India’s tiny train has puffed up the Himalayas since 1881 but now the world heritage site is under threat

Darjeeling ko sano rail, hirna lai abo tyari cha / Guard le shuna bhai siti bajayo” (Darjeeling’s dainty train is all set to chug off / Oh, listen to the guard blowing the whistle): generations of children in Darjeeling have grown up hearing these lines from a Nepali nursery rhyme. Serenading the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway (DHR), it depicts the close relationship between the “Queen of the Hills” and local people.

However, that relationship has become strained after the Indian government decided to hand over the running of the railway – listed by Unesco as a world heritage site – and oversight of the land adjoining the stations to a private company, threatening jobs and livelihoods.

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‘Living in a cave is no life’: Pakistani villagers trapped by Taliban and poverty

Seven years after fleeing army clashes with militants, 100 families eking out an existence on a hillside near the Afghan border are unable to return home

“Don’t talk to me about the government. They don’t help.”

Ninety-year-old Shah Mast is angry. He has been living in the cave he calls home for seven years, ever since an offensive by the Pakistan army against the Islamist militant group Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) destroyed his home.

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‘I feel more secure’: how a holistic approach helps India’s beggars build a better life

In Rajasthan a project developing self-esteem and skills is getting people off the streets and into work

Pandit Tulsidas, 52, was resting under a tree by a road junction in Jaipur, Rajasthan, where he had begged for years.

When an official approached him about a government scheme that would teach him job skills, he rejected the offer. When the man said his meals would be looked after and he would have a room to share with only one other person, he refused again.

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‘It’s as if there’s no Covid’: Nepal defies pandemic amid a broken economy

Cases appear low and sports venues are packed, but protests are on the rise as jobs are lost and personal debt soars

Traffic jams and soaring pollution levels are back. Political leaders are organising mass rallies, far more focused on fighting each other than any virus. If poorer Nepalis are struggling with the dire economic fallout from Covid-19, on the surface, at least, it appears daily life in the capital, Kathmandu, is back to normal.

“It’s as if nothing has happened. The nightclubs are crowded. Schools and colleges are reopening. Sports venues are full. It doesn’t seem like there is any Covid,” says Sameer Mani Dixit, a public health specialist. “It defies logic.”

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‘Moving mountains’: How Pakistan’s ‘invisible’ women won workers’ rights

Home workers in Sindh province are celebrating new social security benefits, after being denied lockdown funding

Shamim Bano has been an invisible worker for 40 years. Working 12-hour days from home as a “cropper” in the port city of Karachi, she cuts the loose threads off clothing and makes samosas to sell at schools.

Bano is paid about 25 Pakistani rupees (£0.10) a day. It’s a precarious existence for Pakistan’s home-based workers, without access to social security benefits or pensions. Most of these informal workers are women.

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Fishermen fear Pakistan’s new ‘city for the elite’ will end their way of life

A proposed island megacity off Karachi puts precious wetlands – and the millions of jobs that depend on them – at risk

On the island of Bundal, off Pakistan’s Arabian Sea coast, people gather in their thousands, as they have done for decades, to honour their saint, Baba Yousaf Shah.

As the sun shines on the festivities around the shrine, colourful flags flutter energetically as the air fills with the vibrant clamour of music, singing and feasting.

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‘We do not get a chance at happiness’: the Bangladeshi fishermen caught by debt

Hilsa fishermen must borrow to buy equipment but have to sell their catch at a low price to moneylenders – creating a generational debt trap

Kalam Sheikh’s life revolves around the few months when he goes in search of Bangladesh’s prized hilsa fish. When he gets a good catch, he can make enough money to live on for the rest of the year. He can pay off some of his debts and even improve his home.

But this fragile annual cycle has been broken this year, with bad catches bookended by months off the water by the coronavirus pandemic and government restrictions to stop overfishing.

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High court backs negligence claim of Bangladeshi ship-breaker’s widow

Ruling may persuade shipping companies that scrapping vessels in the dangerous, unregulated yards of south Asia is a false economy

A widow whose husband fell eight storeys to his death while breaking up a supertanker in Bangladesh can pursue a negligence claim against Maran (UK), a British company involved in the ship’s sale, according to a high court ruling.

The judge in London ruled shipping firm Maran (UK) Ltd arguably had a duty of care towards Mohammed Kalil Mollah, 32, who died working on the Ekta, a 300,000-tonne vessel, that was being scrapped at a yard in Chittagong, now Chattogram, Bangladesh. The Guardian wrote about Mollah’s death earlier this year.

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Soap and solace scarce as Sri Lanka’s tea pickers toil on amid lockdown

Workers in a sector with a history of exploitation face hazards including a lack of masks and overcrowded accommodation

In Sri Lanka, police have been enforcing tough lockdown measures and a strict curfew since March. The country’s inspector general has instructed police to take action against social media users who criticise the government or spread “malicious” pandemic information.

An exception has been made, however, for the country’s tea pickers. A caveat on the country’s lockdown order, issued on 20 March, read: “Paddy farming and plantation, including work on tea small holdings and fishing activities, are permitted in any district.”

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