India prepares for biggest-ever exercise to bring back stranded citizens

Akhilesh Suman

File photo of External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar during a press conference (PTI Photo)

File photo of External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar during a press conference (PTI Photo)

Starting Thursday, India will embark on one of its biggest evacuation exercises to bring home thousands of Indians stranded worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the first phase, over a period of seven days, Indians from 12 countries will be brought back.

On May 7, 64 flights Air India flights will evacuate Indians from different destinations.

From May 8, 15 Indian Navy ships will join the exercise to bring back Indians from Europe, American, Gulf and South-East Asian countries.

People stranded in Nepal will be brought back by land.

Earlier, India had evacuated its citizens from various countries including Wuhan in China before March 22, when all incoming flights to India were stopped.

The biggest evacuation the country has seen so far was in 1990 when nearly 1,70,000 Indians were brought home from the Gulf during the Iraq-Kuwait war.

More recently, in 2015 nearly 5500 Indians were evacuated from war-torn Yemen during its conflict with Saudi Arabia.

All Indian embassies and High Commissions are preparing the lists of the people who will be evacuated according to the guidelines given to them. According to sources, priority will be given to people who are ailing, pregnant, senior citizens and those who are jobless, stranded on short term visa, or tourists who had gone for short vacation.

Warships INS Jalashwa, INS Magar and INS Shardul have been sent to Maldives, United Arab Emirates and other Gulf nations. Others ships will be moved as required.

While the ships will be used to bring back Indians from nearby countries, flights will be used for far-flung destinations.

The first week of the exercise will see around 14,800 people returning home by air and sea.

Countries from where the stranded Indians will be brought back include 2,000 from UAE, 1,000 from Saudi Arabia, 400 from Qatar, 1,750 from the United Kingdom, 1,250 from Singapore, 1,750 from Malaysia, 2,100 from USA, 1,250 from Philippines, 1,400 from Bangladesh, 400 from Baharain, 1,000 from Kuwait, 450 from Oman and the rest from Maldives.

All evacuations will be paid for by the people who will be evacuated.

The Ministry of Home Affairs on Monday released a blueprint of the evacuation, which will be coordinated by the Ministry of External Affairs along with the Ministries of Civil Aviation, Shipping and Defence.

All returning people will need to download the Aarogya Setu app on their mobiles and undergo the normal quarantine protocol.

No Overseas Citizen of India card holder will be brought to India, but if anyone in India wants to go back, they can take the flights that will be deployed for the evacuation.

There are nearly 1.4 crore Indian residents in different parts of the world. Given the huge number, it is not feasible to evacuate all of them.

The Gulf nations themselves have nearly 9 million Indians, mostly workers. Almost 10,000 have tested positive for the novel Coronavirus while 84 people have died.