Sounds of gunshots and explosions fresh in their mind, around 350 Indians returned home from war-ravaged Yemen on Thursday, embracing their dear ones in tears and narrating terrifying tales bombed-out neighbourhoods.
Two groups of Indians landed in Mumbai and Kochi after being evacuated by two Indian Air Force planes from Aden, a major flashpoint in the battle between Houthi rebels and Saudi Arabia-backed fighters allied with exiled president Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi.
“I never thought I would be back. My hostel in Aden was reduced to a heap of rubble. Once fighting intensified, lawlessness reigned supreme. Since all shops were closed there was shortage of food and water for the last three days,” said P Sreevidya, a nurse.
India has launched a massive evacuation programme and a warship rescued 306 more from the western Red Sea port city of Hodeidah on Thursday.
However, at least 3,000 Indians still remain trapped in Yemen and two warships, escorting two more passenger vessels, are expected to reach this week for further evacuation. India is assisting Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in rescuing their nationals.
“We were stranded at our house for several days. We could see bombing and rebels and Saudi- backed military trading gunfire. The rebels did not harm us while leaving,” said 26-year-old jewellery worker Majid Ali from Kolkata.
Not everyone had such luck though. Parents of two nurses working in Yemen were left devastated at Kochi airport when only one of their daughters, Tinsy, got off the plane. “Jincy was at the Sana’a airport but couldn’t make it since some problem cropped up at the eleventh hour. We hope she will be back soon,” said K Omana, their mother.
Embassy no help, hospitals holding us hostage, say nurses
Indian nurses caught in the war zone have accused the embassy staff in Sanaa of abandoning them and hospital authorities of forcing them to stay back.
“A group of us went to the Indian embassy today and were told that we could travel to Hodeidah at our own risk. They are not even providing vehicles. What if we get shot on the way?" Elizabeth Joseph told HT over the phone from Sanaa on Thursday.
A day earlier, she was forced to return to her hostel after a five-hour wait at Sanaa airport as the plane that was to fly more than 300 Indians home was denied landing permission.
Nurses also complained that their employers were holding their passports.
“The hospital has told us that if we resign or register to exit, we will have to pay them two months’ salary or they won’t return our passports," a nurse with Al Thawra hospital in Sanaa said. She did not want to be identified, as she feared reprisal. At least 300 to 400 Indian nurses work with this hospital. Joseph, whose work contract has run out, is worried that she would have nowhere to go in the war-torn country. “The hospital has told us that we can’t stay on-campus if we are exiting," she said.
(With inputs from HTC and Rahul Singh in New Delhi)