32,000 Indians to be repatriated in second phase of Vande Bharat Mission
State-run Air India and its subsidiary Air India Express will operate 149 flights to 31 countries, including the US, Australia and France, during the second phase of Vande Bharat Mission beginning on May 16.
The second phase of India’s massive programme to repatriate citizens stranded abroad because of the Covid-19 pandemic will bring home about 32,000 people, more than double the figure for the first phase, people familiar with developments said on Thursday.
State-run Air India and its subsidiary Air India Express will operate 149 flights to 31 countries, including the US, Australia and France, during the second phase of Vande Bharat Mission beginning on May 16. The first phase, which mostly focused on West Asian countries, has 64 flights.
“There will be more flights and more destinations in the second phase. We are looking to bring back about 32,000 people,” said one of the people cited above, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
About 15,000 citizens are expected to be repatriated from 12 countries during the first phase of Vande Bharat Mission, which will end on May 15, and 56 flights have already brought back more than 12,000 Indian nationals.
An additional 904 Indians were repatriated from the Maldives by two Indian warships on May 10 and 12, and some more nationals arrived in the country on deportation flights from various countries.
The people said requests from OCI card holders can be considered after the government meets the minimum expectations of its Indian nationals seeking to return home. Embassies in West Asian countries are also in touch with stakeholders following offers from private firms to repatriate Indian workers who had been laid off, they said.
So far, a total of 188,646 Indian nationals have registered with the external affairs ministry to return, and priority will be given to those with compelling reasons for repatriation, such as workers laid off due to the pandemic, pregnant women, and people with medical emergencies.
“An additional 18 countries are covered under the second phase, including Indonesia, Thailand, Australia, Italy, France, Germany, Ireland, Canada, Japan, Nigeria, Kazakhstan and Ukraine. We are broadening the ambit of Vande Bharat Mission every week in a phased manner, in line with our quarantine capacity and health protocols,” said external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava.
He described Vande Bharat Mission as the largest and most complex exercise undertaken by the government for repatriating citizens stranded abroad, for which the external affairs ministry is working closely with the ministries of civil aviation, home and health and state governments.
Referring to the deployment of the warship INS Kesari for Mission Sagar, an operation to provide medical aid and supplies to the Maldives, Mauritius, Madagascar, Comoros and Seychelles, Srivastava said the vessel is currently docked at Male to offload 550 tonnes of food supplies. The warship is carrying two medical assistance teams, a consignment of Covid-19-related essential medicines and food supplies.
“This is inspired by the prime minister’s vision of Sagar – security and growth for all in the region. This is also in keeping with India’s role as a first responder in the region,” he said.
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