Coronavirus lockdown | Nod for return of stranded Indians

Coronavirus lockdown | Nod for return of stranded Indians

Flights to start from Gulf on May 7

The government has decided to allow hundreds of thousands of Indians stranded in different parts of the world to return home in a “phased manner” beginning May 7, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) announced on Monday.

In the first phase, “distressed citizens” will be brought back on commercial aircraft and naval ships, according to a list prepared by the respective embassies, strictly on “payment-basis”, the government added. The returnees would also have to pay for quarantine and hospital facilities that they need on return.

Sources told The Hindu that in the first phase from May 7- 14, the government would allow more than 60 “non-scheduled, commercial” flights to operate from about 12 countries to India to bring back 15,000 citizens. At least half of those flights will be from the Gulf region, including UAE, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, while the rest would bring passengers from the U.S., the U.K., Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines and Bangladesh.

The flights would be spread over 10 States identified as having the largest numbers to return, with Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Delhi (NCR) receiving the maximum number of flights.

Coronavirus lockdown | Nod for return of stranded Indians

A meeting held at the Ministry of Civil Aviation looked specifically at flights, mainly operated by Air India, while it awaits a final plan from countries where Indians need to be airlifted from. The first flights planned at present are from Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Riyadh and Doha, flying directly to Kozhikode and Kochi.

In a tweet, Kerala Finance Minister Thomas Isaac said the State is “hoping to meet the challenge of more than 5 lakh Keralite migrants returning home”, indicating that the State expects to receive the bulk of returnees in the next few months.

While the full estimate of Indians needing to return home could cross ten lakhs (a million), with more than two lakhs having registered to return from the UAE alone, officials said their return would be “prioritised and staggered”.

Much of the migrant labour population in the Gulf will return aboard Indian naval ships, but officials say women, and particularly pregnant women will be given priority on aircrafts. It is unclear how much the tickets will cost, and how the fare will be collected.

Defence Ministry sources said specific instructions are awaited from the MEA on the movement of the ships, which are on standby. According to a source, the first ships likely to be sent are the INS Jalashwa, the Navy’s largest amphibious platform, and a few smaller Landing Ship Tank (LST) vessels.

Officials of the MEA, MHA, Ministry of Civil Aviation and Defence have been planning the massive repatriation exercise, which has been prompted by appeals from thousands of Indians who were stranded after the government announced a complete ban on incoming travel from March 22.

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