New Delhi: The Modi government will be bringing back 400 Indian nationals from Iran via Tehran-based airline Mahan Air, ThePrint has learnt.
Indians, mostly students and pilgrims, will be brought back in two batches — the first batch will arrive Tuesday and the other Saturday, 28 March. In the first batch, 278 Indian nationals will be brought and the remaining in the second batch if Mahan Air is able to obtain all the necessary approval, sources told ThePrint.
Most of these Indians are from Kashmir and Ladakh, according to sources.
“In all, 400 Indians will return on 24 March and 28 March. No hurdles foreseen,” a senior official told ThePrint.
This comes at a time when an Indian national has died due to coronavirus in Iran last week. This was the first such death of an Indian national outside India.
According to Dammu Ravi, Additional Secretary and Coordinator (COVID-19), Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), the deceased was an elderly man and was infected with the virus, which claimed his life.
The Indians, who are scheduled to come back in these two batches now, have all tested negative for COVID-19. Their tests were conducted by a special team of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) that was sent to Tehran. The team had set up a testing laboratory there.
Sources said the ICMR’s lab has been wrapped up and the team of six specialists have come back to India. All Indian nationals who have tested positive in Iran have been asked to stay back for proper treatment.
Sanctions on Iran
India has been facing a monumental challenge in bringing its nationals back from Iran due to the US-led sanctions.
As a result of the sanctions, India was not able to either send its military aircraft or Air India planes to Tehran, as the MEA has been doing while evacuating Indians from other countries such as Italy and China.
Hence, the private airline Mahan Air has decided to operate “special flights” for the evacuation process, sources said.
Sources added the evacuation was to be done last week itself, but due to some procedural hurdles, it got delayed.
According to Iranian diplomatic sources, Tehran is leaving no stone unturned to make sure that Indian nationals return to India as “it is not feasible for Indians to stay in Iran” and they should return “safely and without any hassle”.
“We are fully ready to cooperate with the Indian government to bring back their nationals,” said an official of the Iranian government.
Meanwhile, Indian pilgrims stranded in Qom are being treated by Iranian doctors.
#Indian pilgrims in #Qom being treated by #Iranian doctors. We express heartfelt thanks to the #Government of I.R.Iran and #Governor, Qom.@DrSJaishankar @harshvshringla @dhamugaddam @MOS_MEA @MEAIndia @drharshvardhan @MoHFW_INDIA pic.twitter.com/zEnQ04Qgpw
— India in Iran (@India_in_Iran) March 23, 2020
So far, over 590 Indians have returned to the country from Iran. The last batch of 53 Indians, which was the fourth batch, landed on 16 March.
Indian mission in Iran not shutting down
The government has no plans to shut down the Indian embassy in Tehran. The entire mission staff there has tested negative for coronavirus.
Embassy officials have been transporting Indian nationals from Iranian pilgrimage cites, Qom and Mashhad, to capital Tehran as the government there has stopped all inter-provincial bus services.
The embassy has been working round-the-clock to help the Indian nationals there. Some of the embassy rooms have been turned into rest houses for the stranded Indians.
So far 23,049 cases of novel coronavirus have been detected in Iran, of which 1,812 have died, according to Iranian Health Ministry spokesperson Kianoush Jahanpour.