Over 300,000 Indians register to return from Gulf region, only those with ‘compelling reasons’ to be brought back in first phase
More than 300,000 Indians in West Asian countries have registered to return home but only those with compelling reasons, such as people facing deportation or those who have been laid off, will be brought back in the first phase of the repatriation programme, people familiar with developments said on Tuesday.
The government will operate the first wave of 64 repatriation flights from May 7 to bring back about 15,000 Indian citizens from 12 countries over a period of one week. Those who are comfortably placed and have no compelling reason to return shouldn’t make travel plans, the people said on condition of anonymity.
“The numbers are quite significant…More than 300,000 people have registered in the Gulf region alone but we will only bring back those registered as compelling cases. The missions will determine the compelling cases,” said one of the people cited above.
The first phase of the programme will focus on those facing deportation, those who have been laid off, those having non-permanent residency or holding short-term visas whose visas have expired, those with medical emergencies or seeking treatment for terminal illnesses, pregnant women and the elderly, those returning due to a death in the family, tourists stranded abroad, and students whose hostels and institutions have closed because of the Covid-19 crisis.
“If you are living in another country and you’re comfortable, this is not the time to plan your return,” the person said. “In the immediate future, we can’t bring back everyone but we’ll bring back those who have a genuine reason to come back.”
The first wave of flights will bring back Indians from the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, the US, the UK, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore and the Philippines, and the programme will be expanded later to other countries such as Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, the people said.
While leaving India, the flights can carry citizens of the destination country, Indians with one-year visas for the destination country, green card or OCI card holders, and Indians with six-month visas who wish to travel for a medical emergency, the people said.
More than 10,000 Indians living in West Asian countries have tested positive for Covid-19 and 84 have died, a second person said. The people said the arrangements for repatriation will be as watertight as possible to ensure there is no further spread of the virus. Passengers will be screened and only asymptomatic people will be allowed to travel, and they will have to undergo further tests and quarantine on reaching India.
In the case of the UAE, all passengers will have to undergo rapid antibody tests, the people added.
Though hundreds of thousands of Indian nationals have registered to return, the people said there were already numerous instances of people dropping out after finding out about the stringent conditions related to screening and quarantine.
External affairs minister S Jaishankar and foreign secretary Harsh Shringla are overseeing process of coordinating with foreign governments, Indian missions and state governments. Jaishankar has been holding meetings with other ministries and had a video conference with heads of missions in some of the countries from which Indians are returning, including the UAE, Singapore, the Maldives and the US.
At least 20 senior officials of the external affairs ministry have been selected to liaise with the states to which the Indian nationals will return, such as Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Haryana. The foreign secretary will have a video conference with chief secretaries of several states on Wednesday for coordination, the people said.
The external affairs ministry will upload all information on the people returning to the country on an online digital platform that will be accessible to other ministries and state governments. The data on those who lost their jobs will help state governments rehabilitate these workers by including them in national or state government employment programmes or in private sector jobs, the second person said.
The people insisted that the massive programme was not an evacuation because it is not a government-sponsored exercise. “What we are doing is facilitating the return of our nationals back to the country,” the first person said, adding the government had negotiated very competitive rates for the flights. For instance, the cost of the flight from West Asian countries was about Rs 15,500 per person.
The people said there were about 14 million Indian nationals spread around the world, including nearly nine million in the West Asian countries.