Over 300 Indian medical students are stranded in Kazakhstan’s Almaty Airport after India banned international arrivals from March 22 to March 31. The students haven’t been able to leave the airport for more than three days now as Almaty is under lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. Almaty is Kazakhstan’s biggest city and its airport accounts for half of the country’s air traffic.
Students said the discrimination by the locals are adding to their woes. People are denying them accommodation, they claimed, adding shopkeepers too are refusing groceries, sanitisers and masks to them.
Deepak Dhaka, a student from Rajasthan, said, “When Almaty was locked down, we were afraid it could be extended to the entire Kazakhstan. We left our university, which is over 15 hours train journey away, for the airport. But after reaching the airport, we were apprised about India’s travel ban.”
Students are stuck at the airport without proper food, sleep and sanitation. “We failed to find any accommodation near the airport as people said foreigners will bring the virus in their property,” Deepak added.
Even if some of them have managed to get accommodation, they are being subjected to discrimination by shopkeepers. Sonypriya Phanjoubam, a student from Manipur, said “Our friends gave us their apartment here before they left for India on March 21. But we have limited stock of food. Shopkeepers have supplies but they don’t want to sell to foreigners.”
Many students couldn’t leave their hostels because of complete closure of transportation service. “All the transportation in Kazakhstan is owned by the government, which has shut it completely. We don’t know how we will catch our flight from Almaty, which is over 15 hours away,” said Anish Shah Aziz, a student at Semey Medical University. “India hadn’t announced its travel block when we booked our tickets.”
Kazakhstan is a favoured destination among Indian medicine aspirants. While many managed to return before the outset of this crisis, a few unlucky are still stranded. “Because of the virus outbreak, our university closed the classes till July. The course will now be continued online. That’s why we want to return home,” said Kegson Singh, Anish’s classmate.
Kazakhstan has recorded over 50 positive covid-19 cases till now. “The virus’ spread has escalated here in the last few days. Which is why we feel unsafe and want to return to India. If the virus reaches here, the locals will be given treatment preference,” added Kegson.
The students have reached out to the Indian embassy there, but failed to receive a satisfactory response. “We don’t know whom to contact here, that’s why we reached out to the embassy. But they have asked us to return to our hostels. How are we supposed to do a 15-hour journey back to our hostel amid the transportation lock down,” said Deepak. “Our hostels have also warned of a 14-day quarantine upon reaching there. So returning to our hostel is just not feasible.”
On March 21, the Indian embassy released a statement on Twitter. The statement read, “Due to heavy pressure on air traffic, it has not been possible to accept requests for operation of additional flights from Almaty. Therefore, you and other students waiting for flight at Almaty airport are advised to return to your hostels.”
The students said the Indian government has sent special flights to rescue Indians in many other countries and questioned “why can’t they just accept one flight from here? “We feel unsafe here and are ready to accept quarantine upon reaching India,” said Deepak.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines