The first batch of 156 people, including nine women and three children, evacuated from war-torn South Sudan arrived in India on Friday on board an Air Force plane.
The C-17 plane from South Sudan’s capital city Juba with minister of state for external affairs VK Singh escorting the evacuees, including two Nepali citizens, made a brief halt in Thiruvanathapuram where passengers from Kerala and Tamil Nadu disembarked before leaving for Delhi.
The IAF plane landed at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi this morning.
“The flight from South Sudan has landed in Delhi. My colleague Vijay Goyal is at the airport to receive them,” external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted.
“I welcome our brothers and sisters on their safe return from strife torn South Sudan. Your country is always with you in hour of crisis,” Swaraj said in another tweet.
She expressed her gratitude to the Indian Air Force and its officers for safe evacuation of Indian nationals from the strife-torn territory. “Our heartfelt gratitude to the Indian Air Force and their brave officers who carried out this mission,” Swaraj said in another tweet.
“I appreciate my MEA officers, Indian ambassador to South Sudan and his team for their meticulous work,” she further tweeted.
There were over 550 Indians in Juba and another 150 in areas where the oil wells are located.
MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup on Thursday said that the aim is to evacuate all the Indian nationals who have expressed their interest in leaving.
The evacuation exercise faced a hurdle when several Indians, after registering with the ministry for leaving South Sudan, refused to return, despite an appeal by Swaraj on Twitter asking them to move out.
“When we landed, 156 came out with us. There were 30-40 people who had already booked their tickets when the commercial flights started and 300 people did not want to be evacuated due to their business concerns and other activities. There are nine women and three children among those evacuated,” Singh told reporters at Thiruvanathapuram airport.
On those who turned down the government’s plea to be evacuated, Singh said, “We tried to convince them. I suppose business comes first, life comes later (for them)....” “After fighting broke out in Juba and its outskirts, our aim was to evacuate our people who were in danger. As per our information, there were 550 plus people in Juba itself with another 150 Indians in areas where the oil wells are,” Singh added.
Singh said he had met vice-president of South Sudan on the situation there. The C-17 aircraft was brought via Uganda and the minister also met Ugandan Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda who on his part assured India of all help.
South Sudan is witnessing heavy fighting between former rebels and government soldiers in several parts of the city.
Kerala power minister Kadakkampally Surendran and Thiruvananthapuram district collector Biju Prabhakar were among those who received the travel weary passengers when they arrived in the city.