New Delhi: India is now planning to expand the process of bringing its stranded nationals back home by including more countries such as Germany, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Ukraine, Russia and Thailand, among others, ThePrint has learnt.
These countries were not part of the initial phase of the ongoing ‘Vande Bharat Mission’.
Official sources said the government is planning to bring the Indians stuck in these countries as part of the second phase of the repatriation process from 15 May onward, albeit on compelling grounds or emergency cases.
Plans have been firmed up to also fly feeder flights in the second phase in order to facilitate easy return of these Indian nationals “as close to their homes as possible”, the sources said, adding that these feeder flights will be operated on a “hub and spoke model” connecting bigger airports with the smaller ones in tier-II and tier-III cities.
However, sources said, while these operations are not being conducted to make profits, the government is ensuring that such exercises are being carried out on a commercially viable basis.
Sources also said some aircraft that were supposed to fly out to various destinations as part of the initial phase, faced some delays owing to the large-scale Covid-19 testing of all crew members on RT-PCR kits and the results took time to come.
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Four flights already brought back Indians
In the first phase of the mission, a total of 64 flights carrying nearly 15,000 Indians from 12 countries are expected to land at 14 airports across India from 7 May to 15 May. Originally, the plan was to complete the first phase by 13 May.
As of now, four flights have already landed in India.
On May 7, an Air India flight came back from Abu Dhabi and landed in Kochi with 181 passengers, another flight from Dubai to Kozhikode came back with 182 passengers.
All the passengers from UAE underwent rapid anti-body tests before departure, sources said.
On Friday, 234 passengers from Singapore came back to Delhi, and 168 Indian nationals, mostly women and medical students, landed in Srinagar from Dhaka.
A total of 27 flights are now expected to take off from the Gulf region. These include 11 from the UAE, five each from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, and two each from Bahrain, Qatar and Oman.
Over 60,000 requests of repatriation
According to sources, the government has so far received a total number of 67,833 requests for repatriation.
These include requests from 22,470 students, 15,815 migrant workers, 9,250 short-term visa holders faced with expiry of visas. The remaining are medical emergency cases, people seeking treatment for terminal illness, tourists stranded abroad, pregnant women, elderly people and those required to return due to the death of a family member.
Some of the Indian nationals are also being repatriated by naval ships — INS Jalashwa and INS Magar — from Male, Maldives.
INS Jalashwa set sail Friday from Male to reach Kochi with around 700 Indians on board.
INS Magar is expected to set sail from Male with 200 returnees on 10 May to reach Kochi on 12 May.
From Maldives itself, India is planning to bring back about 2,000 Indians.
According to sources, about 4,500 Indians, out of the 27,000 residing there, have expressed interest to come back. But, sources said, priority will be given to compelling cases such as medical, senior citizens, family emergencies and those who are jobless.
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