Indian officials have been chalking out plans to bring back Indians stranded abroad. Indian nationals stuck in Gulf countries will likely be the first to return after the lockdown in India is lifted, said people aware of the development. According to officials, Indian missions in the Gulf nations have also been asked to stay prepared for evacuation plans if they are implemented after May 3, when the 40-day nationwide lockdown is scheduled to end.
Gulf countries account for the highest number of Indian nationals working and living abroad.
Earlier this month, the United Arab Emirates' Ministry of Human Resources said that it was reviewing labour relations with countries refusing to repatriate their nationals who wished to return home. UAE officials said they were considering halting any memorandum of understanding with countries who were not cooperating and restricting recruitment quotas in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. There are approximately 3.4 million Indians in the UAE and 2.6 million in Saudi Arabia.
Sources told CNBC-TV18 that Indian foreign secretary Harshvardhan Shringla has written to all chief secretaries asking them to make preparations for Indians who will be repatriated in the coming weeks. "The priority is to bring back Indian nationals from the Gulf countries first and then repatriate nationals from other nations. We would be repatriating citizens depending on the size of the diaspora in a particular Gulf nation and the urgency of a particular case," said an official.
A senior government official said that the repatriation of Indian nationals has been discussed at all high-level meetings over the past few weeks. "A lot depends on when the lockdown is lifted and when commercial flights resume. We would start by evacuating nationals from Gulf countries." said an official.
Indian envoys to UAE and Saudi Arabia have told CNBC-TV18 that they are supporting Indian nationals by distributing food, counselling and helping local authorities expand quarantine facilities. Indian missions have been urging nationals to remain calm until May 3.
Speaking to CNBC-TV18 on Friday, India's Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Ausaf Sayeed said, "We have received a large number of requests from Indian students, those working in private companies, pregnant women, those on tourist visas and medical visas. As of now there are no plans to resume commercial flights but as and when the government takes a policy decision, perhaps after the third of May then we will be fully geared up to deal with the situation, We are making a list of all Indians who wish to return home.”
According to government sources over 3,336 Indians spread across 53 countries are suffering from COVID-19 and over 2,061 are in Gulf countries alone. Twenty five Indian nationals abroad have died due to coronavirus.
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