India’s massive repatriation plan to bring citizens home gets massive response from around the world
The first Air India flight out of the United States bound for India carrying citizens of that country back home is scheduled to leave San Francisco May 9, 2020. The first flight out of New York’s Liberty International Airport is scheduled for May 10.
It is part of the first tranche of the plan which began unfolding May 7 and goes on till May 15, to evacuate some 14, 800 Indians from countries around the world stuck because of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Flights out of the U.S. were scheduled to begin May 9 (See Table)
India’s Consul General in New York Sandeep Chakravorty, tells News India Times 20,000 people in the U.S. have already registered, (give or take a few thousand due to duplication), on the form available on the Indian Embassy website within a couple of days of announcing the ambitious repatriation program.
“Commenced preparations for Vande Bharat Mission. Planning underway for stranded Indian nationals to return home starting 7th May. Urge them to keep in regular touch with their Embassies,” tweeted India’s Minister of External Affairs S. Jaishankar May 5.
Shortly thereafter he tweeted he was coordinating arrival arrangements with State Governments, and added, “Confident that our collective efforts will make this a success.”
The hashtag for the program (#VandeBharatMission) went viral around the world with concerned Indian citizens hoping they would be on one of those 64 planes or the several ships being dispatched from their home land to evacuate them, whether from the United States or the United Arab Republic.
Twelve select countries are included in what is the first tranche of such a massive mobilization. (United States, UAE, United Kingdom, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Oman.
Flight Schedule U.S.-India provided by Indianembassyusa.gov.in:
According to India’s Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri, of the 64 flights that will leave for the 12 countries, seven flights would be dedicated to the U.S., another seven to U.K., 10 to UAE, five to Saudi Arabia, five to Singapore, two to Qatar.
Responses from Indians around the world show obviously, that many are in countries not on this list.
Tweets from Maldives to Malawi, Kazakhstan to Comoros, Nigeria where rajkumarsameer723 tweeted that 150 Indians are stuck in Logos, 12 engineers in Christchurch, New Zealand, someone from Guinea, West Africa, others asking about Sweden, the Benelux countries, Germany, it is almost endless.
The May 5 directive from the Government of India said New Delhi would be “facilitating the return of Indian nationals stranded abroad on compelling grounds in a phased manner,” Consul General Chakravorty notes. “We expect the
Indian nationals in the U.S. were given the link to a Registration Form (https://indianembassyusa.gov.in/reg_indian_nationals) that each had to fill with relevant information for planning purposes. Medical screening of passengers would be done before boarding the flight and only asymptomatic passengers would be allowed to travel.
Once they reach India, they would require to be screened for the virus, register on the Arogya Setu app, and put in mandatory quarantine for fourteen days, screened again before being released to go to their respective homes.
Passengers have to pay for their travel, but also for the quarantine, a sticking point for students who complained on social media that they do not have that kind of money.
One person, Muzaffar Majid Jan (@JanMuzaffar) tweeted at 9:11 AM on Tue, May 05, 2020, within an hour of Minister Jaishankar’s tweet — “Sir , how can a student pay ₹30000 as ticket cost from kulalumpur (sic) to Delhi.”
Other complaints were around not being able to get responses from Indian consulates or embassies in various countries.
Then there were others who said what about them? Like Anupam Ghosh from Senegal who tweeted this response, “Sir we 7 indians from TN came to Dakar for official trip and got stranded .It is almost 45 days. Present evacuation plan does not include Dakar.pls help.”
Several asked if they could be allowed to quarantine at home once they got to India and the medical screening showed negative for COVID -19.
Parveen Goyal from the U.S., asked, “Dear @DrSJaishankar, heard that government will be charging 1lakh rupees per person from USA. If someone is stranded, will it be possible for them to have so much cash? Any thoughts given for the pricing? And subsequent quarantine?
Biren Shah asks from New Jersey, “I’m stranded Indian (sic) in New Jersey & was to return back to India with my family on 4/25. Due to lockdown, we are stuck now, have registered with Embassy for evacuation flights, but revert yet. Can we have clarity and plan? Embassy not answering calls nor giving any clarity. Please help.”
In the U.S., those interested in leaving have to follow the protocols and procedures including Health Protocols issued by Washington, and those of India once they arrive, also signing an undertaking to that effect.
Consul General’s Account
“The basic point is there was a hue and cry that we don’t take care of our people. But as soon as we could we made this huge plan,” Consul General Chakravorty told News India Times.
Though 20,000 in the U.S. registered within the first few days, he estimates the ultimate number will be around 14,000 to 15,000, because of various reasons — duplicate registrations, issues of travel such as cost or not a compelling enough reason, the 14-day quarantine in India upon arrival, “A lot of people don’t want to go through the quarantine. Plus if you land in Mumbai and have to go to Bangalore, there is a lockdown still,” he noted.
“We have a ful flight going on May 10, from Liberty International Airport to Mumbai and Ahmedabad,” he said.
The plan, he said, could be expanded to other countries, but “We started with from where there will be greatest demand,” Chakravorty said. He hopes lockdowns are over soon so people in different part of India could reach their final destinations more easily.
The “compelling reasons” for which registration was done included medical emergencies, return due to bereavement in the family, students, pregnant women and the elderly, and those facing U.S. visa expiry.
On the day he spoke to News India Times, May 7, “We have made 500 calls today to offer the seats on the plan, and not a single person has refused. Yesterday, we made 1,500 calls.”
According to him, “They all want to go back. Nobody said they won’t go because of the money (price of the ticket), People are emotional. They would rather be jobless in India than here. It is easier.”
He nixed the idea that students could not afford to go home because of the price of the ticket. “I don’t accept that explanation about students. They come from well-to-do families if they are here to study. Also, families can take loans and transfer the money here,” Chakravorty said.
“Besides, we have taken care of lots of students here, paid their bills, delivered food. That’s a whole other story,” the Consul General said.
He also thanked the Indian-American community for its support. “But we cannot ask anyone to hel as we had to work in a small team due to privacy concerns,” he said.
But now that the plans are in operation, “Many community people will help us. I need help from people who know how to use laser instruments to take temperatures at the airport for example. Indian-Americans have said they would help get the doctors for that. Others have given us information about the credibility of some applicants, etc.”
About more flights after May 15, “We want to see the experience from this week and it will depend on that what we do next week.”
The Tweets responding to External Affairs Minister Jaishankar reveal how expansive the Indian diaspora is and the job of attending to all may appear daunting. But the global spread of consulates and embassies appear to be dealing with the issues as they arise.
For example, Rakesh Kumar Chauhan pleaded for help tweeting in Hindi using the English alphabet to say he is stuck for the last two months in Saudi Arabia and has no money.
Chauhan got a reply from the Indian Consulate in Saudi Arabia – someone named Seema Sharma, who told him for starters, to fill the form on the Indian Embassy page on the website.
On May 7, the phased evacuation began.
The Indian Navy dispatched ships with medical teams and aid supplies to several countries in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), which on their return will have their holds full of Indian national evacuees, the Press Information Bureau said in its press release.
Indian Armed Forces meanwhile, have kept six quarantine facilities in Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bhopal, Kochi, Vishakhapatnam and Chennai. that can accommodate up to 2,100 citizens from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Malaysia,
The same day (May 7, 2020), in Kerala, the first Air India Express flight from Abu Dhabi with 177 adults & 4 infants was to land at 9.40 pm IST, in Kochi “marking the beginning of the historic Vande Bharat mission,” the PIB said. Another Air India Express from Dubai was to land at Kozhikode by 10.30 pm the same night as this went to press.