India kicks off op to fly back citizens, 363 evacuees from UAE land in Kerala
Thirty nine pregnant women were among the 363 people who returned to India from the United Arab Emirates on Thursday night via two Air India Express flights that formed the first leg of a massive repatriation programme involving 12 countries and 15,000 passengers.
The first flight of the ‘Mission ‘Vande Bharat’ carrying 181 people from Abu Dhabi landed in Kochi around 10pm on Thursday. The second flight with 182 passengers from Dubai landed in Kozhikkode roughly 20 minutes later.
As the passengers – many of them aged, disabled or children – disembarked from the flight, many were seen wiping tears.
“I am delighted to be in my place. Thank God, I will with my parents for my first delivery. Really grateful to all,” said a pregnant woman on the Kochi flight who refused to share her name.
Shah Jahan, who boarded the flight from Abu Dhabi, said he decided to return to India as he had lost his job. “ I am happy to be a part of the first evacuation flight,” he said.
The state government has set up quarantine and isolation facilities near the international airports and also arranged vacant flats, houses and houseboats to accommodate the passengers.
But as the flight carried many vulnerable and old people, the authorities decided to quarantine them in their respective districts. Once they came out of the airport, they were taken to their respective native districts in special buses and vehicles. “We are going by the government directive,” said Ernakulam collector S Suhas.
Passengers started arriving at Abu Dhabi and Dubai airports as early as 9.30am on Thursday. Some of the passengers were carrying the Tricolour.
Indian ambassador Pavan Kapoor was seen inquiring about the procedure from some of the passengers undergoing medical screening at the Abu Dhabi airport.
“Kudos to all the passengers for waiting patiently for their turn for medical screening and many thanks to all the frontline health workers and airport staff for extending full support,” the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi tweeted. “Vanda Bharat Mission, the world’s biggest repatriation exercise starts today. More than 350 Indian from UAE will be flying back. Thanks to all,” Kapoor said.
“All of them have cleared the tests,” Consul General of India in Dubai, Vipul, was quoted as saying by the Gulf News.He said the criteria of passengers’ selection included medical cases, loss of jobs, pregnant women and senior citizens. Those with complications and financial issues were also picked.
In the first week of the massive operation, 64 flights will bring 15,000 Indian citizens home from 12 countries. All those who travel back will have to pay for their tickets, undergo strict screening processes, download the Aarogya Setu app, and go into institutional quarantine after landing.
The first phase runs from May 7 to May 13 and involves the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Bangladesh, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, United Kingdom and United States. All international passengers will be charged for the journey and fares from Gulf countries to Kerala range from Rs 15,000 to Rs 16,000. Rescue flights from London will cost Rs 50,000 while flights from the United States have been priced at Rs 1,00,000.
At least 300,000 people have people have registered to come back in West Asia alone but the authorities are focusing only on “compelling cases”.
A set of standard operating procedures by the Union home ministry said that priority will be given to “asymptomatic” migrant labourers/workers abroad who have been laid off, short term visa holders faced with expiry (of visas), persons with medical emergency, pregnant women, the elderly, students, and those required to return to India due to the death of a family member.
(with agency inputs)