The government has started making plans to evacuate Indians stranded overseas, sources said Sunday. The plan will be implemented after the lockdown is over and restrictions on movement have been eased.
Sources said the plan is to start the evacuation from the Gulf countries, where nearly 8 million Indians live and work.
Some of these Indians have been petitioning the government for a while. These people include those travelling for tourism, business as well as those whose projects have been completed.
The Centre has started drawing up the plans and Indian embassies have been asked to collect details of those stranded.
The government has also started discussions with state governments on preparation quarantine facilities for the returnees.
The issue is being handled at the highest level with Cabinet Secretary Rajiv Gauba helming the discussions and officials from the Ministries of External Affairs, Home and Civil Aviation, the state government’s resident commissioners, and Chief Secretaries in states taking part in them.
Sources said that once the plan is implemented, it may turn out to be the largest evacuation operation ever.
While the numbers are dynamic, they could go up to 2 lakh and the only playbook New Delhi has—in terms of scale—is the 1990 airlift of 1.7 lakh people from Kuwait.
However, sources said the evacuation will be staggered and prioritised according to several factors—their need, medical condition, urgency and the concerned state government’s capacity.
Only Indians who are COVID-negative will be brought back and a system will be evolved to make sure this criterion is fulfilled. For this, either assistance of local authorities will be taken or special medical teams will be sent.
The urgency of evacuating Indians has arisen as some Gulf countries like the UAE have publicly asked Indians who have finished their work or are stranded to go back.
The UAE has offered to fly stranded Indians and citizens of other countries, who wish to be repatriated, if they test negative for COVID-19, the UAE’s Ambassador to India Dr Ahmed Abdul Rahman Al Banna had said mid-April. The UAE’s envoy had said the UAE’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation had sent out a “note verbale” in this regard to embassies of all countries.
Some other Gulf countries, including Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, have also approached the Indian government.
As of mid-April, 25 Indians overseas have died due to COVID-19 and 3,336 Indians abroad have been infected.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines