06 May 2020 (Qatar Tribune-DPA)
Tens of thousands of Indians stranded abroad because of the COVID-19 crisis will be repatriated starting on Thursday in what could become one of the world’s largest evacuation missions. A total of 190,000 Indians will be repatriated in the coming weeks from several countries, including those in the Middle East, where huge numbers of Indian blue-collar workers live, civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri said.
In the first week, 14,800 Indians will be brought back from 12 countries such as the United States, Britain, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia.
Three ships of the Indian Navy will bring back 1,000 Indian nationals from West Asia and the Maldives, broadcaster NDTV reported.
It is India’s biggest evacuation exercise since national carrier Air India flew back 170,000 nationals from Kuwait during the Gulf War in 1990. Puri said the evacuations may well exceed 190,000, according to civil aviation ministry official.
Domestic media also reported that many more could be repatriated. Currently 17.5 million Indians live abroad. While the total number of nationals who have sought repatriation is not known, the Indian mission in the UAE alone said they were trying to evacuate 200,000 Indians. “This will be one of the biggest-ever peacetime repatriation exercises in history,” the official said, adding that there would be the added difficulty of complying with social distancing guidelines.
Every passenger will be screened and only asymptomatic passengers will be allowed to travel.
Those taking the special flights will be charged around 50,000 rupees (660 dollars) from Europe and 100,000 rupees from the US.
On reaching India, those repatriated will have to register on the Aarogya Setu, the government’s COVID-19 tracing app. Experts have raised concerns that the app, which could be made compulsory for all Indians, could expose users to possible surveillance.
India banned flights as it went into lockdown from March 25, which left huge numbers of workers and students stranded.
The government had so far resisted such an operation, given the logistical and safety nightmare of repatriating and quarantining returning citizens.