After successfully evacuating 4,640 citizens, India ended its mission for stranded citizens in Yemen last week. The ministry of external affairs (MEA) had issued the first of a series of advisories in January as the security situation in the West Asian country deteriorated, but the evacuation started only after Saudi Arabia and its allies started aerial strikes on Houthi rebels in Yemen. A no-fly zone enforced in Yemeni airspace by the Saudi-led coalition made it difficult to evacuate Indians by air. But India successfully requested Saudi Arabia to allow civilian aerial sorties to Sanaa on a daily basis. India then created a forward operations base in Djibouti, the tiny African state across the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, from where Indian Air Force C-17 transporters moved evacuees brought out by Air India from Aden to fly them home. The ships of the Indian navy, besides two civilian passenger liners, were also pressed into service to evacuate 1,670 citizens from four Yemeni ports.
For India, which has a significant population living beyond its borders, extricating citizens from zones of conflict or natural disasters has become a recurring challenge. India had evacuated nearly 17,000 people from Libya in 2011. Before that, India had moved 2,280 persons from the conflict zone during the 2006 Lebanon War. India also undertook the biggest airlift in history from Iraq and Kuwait in 1990, during which approximately 1,76,000 persons were evacuated. Delhi is now under pressure from the people to act decisively and spare no expense in bringing back Indians from strife-torn areas. It is to the government’s credit that the MEA, Air India, IAF and navy worked together cohesively in perilous circumstances to rise to this challenge in Yemen. The next step for the government should be to translate its commitment — and the experience of successful evacuations — into appropriate policies and permanent institutional capabilities to protect Indians abroad.
India has also won many friends by evacuating nearly 1,000 nationals of 41 countries from Yemen. Besides Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka, these include citizens of Britain, France and the US. The US Embassy in Sanaa, in fact, had put out an emergency message saying that all its citizens in Yemen should contact the Indian embassy in Sanaa to move out of the warring country. This, significantly, is the first time Western nations have asked for and acknowledged India’s help in evacuating their citizens. The evacuation also provided a rare occasion for India and Pakistan to cooperate, as 11 Indians were evacuated by the Pakistan navy and taken home on a Pakistan Air Force aircraft, even as three Pakistanis made it to their homes through the Indian effort.