Repatriation of foreign nationals continues even as Indians remain stranded abroad

India facilitates repatriation of 58,000 foreign nationals from 72 nations

indians-arriving-italy-quarantine-file [File] The Indians deboarding the Air India flight from Italy

Even as lakhs of Indians stranded across the world continue to await the India government's directions on repatriation, India continues to facilitate the evacuation of foreign nationals stranded in the country.

Early Saturday morning, Russia operated its fourth dedicated flight to take back Russian nationals from India. The Aeroflot flight departed from the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi, taking 271 of its nationals to St Petersburg and Moscow. According to the Russian Embassy in New Delhi, 2,282 people have been evacuated by them ever since India snapped into lockdown mode and suspended regular international departures from March 22. Of these, 1,065  flew out from Delhi, and 1,217 from Goa. Another 3,609 Russian nationals who have registered for flying back continue to await the next charters to go home.

The United Kingdom, too, announced seven further charter flights to take back 2,000 of its nationals from India. Once these flights are completed, over 15,000 British travellers would be brought back from India on 59 flights chartered by the government, said Jan Thompson, acting High Commissioner to India. All the seven new charters will operate from Amritsar to London Heathrow, starting May 5 and running one flight daily till May 11. There were around 35,000 British nationals in India at the time the lockdown began, of which 20,000 had contacted the High Commission requesting facilitation of their return. 

The UK began its evacuations pretty late--April 8, by when, other countries had already taken back many of its citizens. Israel, for instance, had repatriated 1,500, Afghanistan 2,000 and Germany had already operated a dozen flights, taking back not just Germans, but many other Europeans. The UK said the logistics involved in repatriating such a large number took time to manage.

The US has repatriated 3,200 of its nationals and is working on the final evacuation flights.

India, however, has not repatriated its nationals ever since it stopped commercial international flights on March 20. Before that, it had operated special evacuation flights to take back its nationals from the worst affected places in the world at that time--China, Japan, Iran and Italy. India evacuated 2,468 of its nationals before lockdown. Post that, it has facilitated repatriation of 58,000 foreign nationals from 72 countries.

The Ministry of External Affairs runs a special Covid-19 helpline and has been inundated with calls and emails. However, it has said that till the lockdown is lifted, Indians should remain wherever they are, and contact the local Indian missions for logistical help. This has caused much distress and agitation among the stranded people. Around 3,000 are in Malaysia alone, mostly on tourist and business visas. They say they are running out of money and have not had much help from the embassy. The largest number, however, are in the Gulf, where lakhs are employed in various enterprises. The UAE alone has around 35 lakh Indians, a third of the country's population. Oman has 4.45 lakh Indians, a fifth of the country's population. Oman recently told state-owned companies to fire foreign nationals and employ Omanis instead. This development has further accelerated the problem of Indian expats.