It’s believed thousands of Surrey residents are stranded in India, caught up in the subcontinent’s 21-day lockdown because of the COVID-19 virus.
Gurpreet Singh Sahota of Wake Up Surrey, a grassroots organization formed to combat gang violence in the city, says every year in the winter thousands of immigrants visit India and Pakistan, for a few weeks or a few months.
“Now they’re stuck there because the lockdown is imposed, which is more like a curfew in India, until April 15,” he told the Now-Leader. “I know there are some people who didn’t listen, because our government was saying don’t go and they went after that, after these announcements.”
And then there are others who went before Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, on March 12 urged the public to refrain from all non-essential international travel. Sahota said it’s estimated about 10 per cent left after the warning, and 90 per cent before.”
On March 25 India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi imposed a total lockdown on the country in an attempt to thwart the virus from spreading among its population of 1.3 billion people. People there are banned from venturing outside their homes.
Sahota said the number of Surrey residents caught up in this “will be in the thousands.”
He said it’s estimated that 94,000 non-resident Indians, from Punjab, from around the world are stuck there, “but most of them are from Canada.” Roughly 15,000 are Canadian citizens, he said.
As for the number of Surrey residents stranded in India, Sahota said, “I’m pretty sure, I can guess, it could be in the thousands, not in the hundreds, in Surrey only.”
Sahota said many elderly Surrey residents of Indian decent “usually go in a group in November, before December, and they come back before April mid.”
Many seasonal workers, who are laid off from the farms and green houses, go for holidays at that time.
“They have homes there, they have families there, just to meet them, right,” he said. “There was some people who went in January, the youngsters, they go for mostly three to six weeks.”
“India is not a rich country so they don’t have essential services, so people are dying there with hunger because there is a lockdown for 21 days and no stimulus package for anyone,” he said.
Organizations like his are seeking help from the Canadian government.
“Let’s say there’s a special charter that goes every day with 500 people coming back, still it will take 30 days to bring 15,000 back to Canada, and they’re citizens.”
Sahota said his parents were planning to fly to India, but didn’t. “We made a last sudden decision, like ‘Oh no, you’re not going.’”
He said he has relatives from Edmonton who are stuck in India. “I think I have more than 100 people, who I know, that they are stuck there, from Surrey.”
Meantime, Neeru Mann, who works as a nurse at Surrey Memorial Hospital, had this to say, in an email to the Now-Leader, as she sat “stranded in India with my two young children and husband due to the destruction this pandemic has caused forcing flight cancellations and airports to shut down.
“After watching dozens of videos online of people in both Canada and the USA out and about, leisurely hanging out at beaches, parks and other places ignorantly disregarding the governments advise to self isolate as much as possible; I am pleading with everyone reading this to PLEASE stay inside your homes and avoid going out as much as possible unless it is absolutely necessary. Picking up chips from the grocery store, going for a walk on the beach, or just driving around to ‘get out of the house for a bit’ is NOT necessary and is NOT okay.
“As a nurse that’s works at Surrey Memorial Hospital, I can’t even imagine the situation my fellow colleagues are facing on the front lines,” she wrote. “To think that healthcare workers are risking not only their own lives, but the lives of their families day in and day out and there are still individuals out there who are showing this level of disregard for the rest of the community. It is just shameful and extremely disappointing to see the way Canadians are being shown as careless and ignorant people by the media all around the world.
Mann said she initially believed the preventative measures taken by the Indian government were too extreme.
“I was annoyed that my vacation was “ruined” as I couldn’t go shopping or eat in restaurants anymore due to malls, restaurants and schools being shut down,” she wrote. “Then within 72 hours of the initial shut downs an announcement was made by the Indian Prime Minister: until further notice the ENTIRE COUNTRY was going into a full fledged mandatory lock down! Martial Law has basically been imposed, the police and the military are all over the place strictly enforcing the lockdown.
“Let Canada continue to be an example for other countries to follow during tough times like this, not the mockery it has become at this time. Do not force the government to take drastic measures to actually contain people in their own homes. Please stay home to stay safe. It’s that simple.”