By Ram Khatry I 6 May 2020 I India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA) and Department of Military Affairs (DMA) are set to stage what is being dubbed the greatest peacetime repatriation exercise.
The mega evacuation of Indian citizens stranded abroad, people who are desperate to come home for a wide variety of humanitarian reasons, exhibits the self-confidence and organisational capacity of the world’s largest democracy.
Hundreds of thousands of Indians are expected to be repatriated under the phased operations which will see India’s formidable defence and civil machines working hand in glove.
In a press statement issued yesterday, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said commercial aircraft as well as Indian Navy vessels will be deployed to repatriate Indians stranded in different parts of the world.
This mass rescue of people from not-so-distant UAE as well from countries as far as the US will commence tomorrow with one flight taking off from Abu Dhabi and another from Dubai, the Consulate General of India in UAE stated.
Indians wishing to return home will need to register with diplomatic missions in respective countries, MHA added in its statement, whereupon they will be contacted by diplomatic mission staff once the passenger lists are ready.
There is no indication that Indian citizens caught up in Australia, however, are in immediate priority of their government as it scrambles to execute what is undoubtedly the world’s biggest repatriation undertaken by any one nation.
The High Commission of India in Canberra has held another round of video conference with Indian community leaders.
“Flights to repatriate stranded Indians in Australia are at the GOI’s planning stages with no confirmed details yet. They are obviously not in the first stage of repatriation flights,” president of the Federation of Indian Associations of NSW, Dr Yadu Singh, said following his participation in the online meeting.
MHA has indicated that the Indian government’s priority will be those who qualify as “compelling cases in distress” such as migrant workers who have lost their jobs, short-term travellers whose visas have expired or are about to expire, people with medical emergencies, pregnant women, elderly citizens, those mourning the passing of their loved ones and lastly (international) students.
The priority list speaks volume about the humanitarian objective of the mass repatriation.
A place on these rescue flights and ships are not state-sponsored. The returnees will pay for their journey back to India.
The inbound Indians will also sign documents that will oblige them to “undergo mandatory institutional quarantine” – also at their own expense.
Ministry of External Affairs staff will carry out thermal screening of all passengers boarding the navy vessels or Air India planes, MHA said, with the government saying it will allow only asymptomatic passengers to board. The process will repeat as the passengers enter into Indian borders.
“If they test negative after 14 days, they will be allowed to go home and will undertake self-monitoring of their health for 14 more days as per protocol,” MHA clarified in its release yesterday.
Once the returnees are on Indian soil, the respective state or territory governments will take over and place them in predetermined quarantine facilities.
In the meantime, India continues mandatory social distancing across the vast country although signs of some relaxation appear such as the permission for gathering of up to 50 people for wedding-related ceremonies while not more than 20 people are allowed to gather for funeral/last rites.