Over 1800 NRIs from Punjab have left for different foreign countries — mainly US, UK, Italy and Germany — in the last two weeks, and hundreds more are awaiting their turn with a request to government to arrange special flights for their return. On Saturday, a group of 271 NRIs left for London from Amritsar in a British Airways flight. Another group of 300 NRIs from Australia and US left in buses for Delhi airport from Ludhiana to board special flights arranged by the American and the Australian embassies.
Punjabis settled abroad are eager to go back despite the risk of returning to countries still in the throes of the pandemic.
During the lockdown, Amritpal Singh of Ucha Ladhana village in Nawanshahr district and his wife, Peggy Mehlig, who is a German national, have made three failed attempts to board the special flight to Germany. They had come here on February 29 and were scheduled to return on March 21.
Makhan Singh (45) of village Gahoon in Balachaur subdivision of Nawanshahr, wants to go back to Latina near Rome in Italy. A farm worker in Latina, he was supposed to fly back by the end of March, but had to stay put due to the lockdown. Nirmal Chand (40) from Nawanshahr’s Kishanpur village too had come from Italy and his return was on March 16. Chand now says he wants to go back at the earliest as his “work is suffering”.
Mandeep Kaur from Ludhiana’s Raikot says he cannot wait to return to Berlin. “Talks about a special flight are going on with the German embassy. But that flight will go to Finland where I have to halt for 26 hours before I can get a connecting flight,” he said.
70-year-old Nirmal Singh and his wife, Harjit Kaur, are stuck because of cancellation of their flight to Louisiana in the US on April 4.
All NRIs who want to go back claim that they have their homes, businesses, and jobs there and can’t afford to stay for long here. Some also point to free medical facilities in their adopted countries.
“In our area, there are not many cases of corona and we can go to our work as my fellow Punjabis are still going,” said Makhan Singh, adding that though there was a risk in the travelling, but he will take proper precautions.
“In Germany, there is no lockdown. People are going on with their business by adopting proper social distancing norms,” said Amritpal Singh, adding that medical system is great there. He said that the Indian government “should help us to get back to Germany by arranging the special flights at the reasonable airfare as some special flights are charging three times the price”. Amritpal added that he was safe here, but his restaurant business was suffering huge losses in Germany due to his absence.
Bhupinder Kaur and her daughter-in-law, Raman Preet, from the US also run a restaurant and had come to attend a marriage.
“My 13-year-old daughter is eagerly waiting for me and I want to get back to her as soon as possible. Though I will have to quarantine myself there, but that is no big deal,” said Raman Preet.
Govt extends help to NRIs
Chief Executive Officer, Chandigarh International Airport, Ajay Kumar, while talking to The Indian Express said that during the lockdown, three special flights took off from here including two to Paro in Bhutan which took 200 Bhutanese nationals and one flight to Delhi carried 100 passengers who were supposed to go to the US from there.
“The flying of the special flight is the subject to be approved by the DGCA and we can fly any flight only after DGCA’s approval,” said CEO Kumar, adding that there was no further information about the next flight from here.
Director, Amritsar Airport, Manoj Kumar Chansaria, informed The Indian Express that evacuation flights for foreign nationals are going on and till date several flights had flown around 1800 passengers, including over 1000 British citizens, 147 Canadians, 95 US nationals, 170 Malaysians. Beginning April 13 to April 18, five special flights have left Amritsar for London. Britain has announced four additional flights from Amritsar to Heathrow on April 21, 23, 25 and 27 to bring back British nationals from Punjab.
(With Inputs from Raakhi Jagga)
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