602 Indians evacuated from Lebanon
The first Air India flight from Larnaca in Cyprus -- to where the Indians were evacuated on Thursday by the Indian Navy destroyer INS Mumbai -- landed at the Chennai airport at 10.30 pm.india Updated: Jul 22, 2006 19:25 IST
Emotional scenes were witnessed on Friday night as two Air India aircraft carrying 602 Indians evacuated from violence-hit Lebanon landed at Chennai and Mumbai.
Many of the returnees raised their hands in acknowledgement of their safe return, others hugged and greeted their waiting relatives, others quietly walked to the terminal building to complete their immigration formalities and head home.
The first flight from Larnaca in Cyprus -- to where the Indians were evacuated on Thursday by the Indian Navy destroyer INS Mumbai -- landed at Chennai at 10.30 pm.
Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vyalar Ravi, received the flight that carried 341 passengers.
The second flight, carrying 261 passengers, landed at Mumbai an hour later.
Of the passengers who arrived in Chennai, wearing orange-coloured armbands, 331 were from Tamil Nadu and the rest from Kerala.
The state government provided them Rs 500 in cash, a dinner and transport facilities to enable them reach their homes.
"If they are happy, we are happy," Ravi said, as he watched the evacuees bustle around the departure terminal looking for their luggage.
Ravi said another 450 Indians were awaiting evacuation from Beirut and that they would be brought out over the next four to five days.
"The government is doing their best for our citizens in the troubled region. Both the Indian envoys in Beirut and Cyprus are helping out those who want to return to India," Ravi said.
In one of its largest ever-overseas civilian evacuation operations named 'Operation Sukoon', the Indian Navy deployed four vessels -- guided missile frigates INS Betwa and INS Brahmaputra and auxiliary tanker INS Shakti, as also INS Mumbai to transport Indian citizens wishing to leave Lebanon to Larnaca.
INS Mumbai, which arrived in the Cypriot port at 5.30 am, is reported to have turned around and is heading for Beirut to pick up the second group of Indians.
The other three ships are deployed in international waters between Lebanon and Cyprus and a decision on re-entering Beirut will be taken as the situation develops, Indian Navy spokesman Captain Vinay Garg said in New Delhi.
According to him, "as of now, only 1,000-odd Indians have expressed a desire to leave. It is possible many more will also want to leave in the coming days".
There are nearly 12,000 Indians in Lebanon, the majority of them working in factories and farms. About 100 have been evacuated to Syrian capital Damascus by road.