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US, UK speed up repatriation of citizens from locked down India, Germany, France halt process

Amid uncertainty over lockdown extension, US, UK & Brazil ramp up process to send back citizens stuck in India. Germany, France, Russia put temporary halt.

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New Delhi: With uncertainty prevailing over India’s decision on an extension of the nationwide lockdown, some foreign missions based in the country have ramped up the process of repatriating their citizens even as others have put a temporary halt to the process amid a deepening Covid-19 crisis.

While the US, the UK and Brazil have accelerated the process of repatriation of their citizens, others like France, Germany and Russia have temporarily stopped it, asking their citizens to stay put wherever they are in India.

The countries’ moves come as challenges are mounting in carrying out large-scale operations, which require extensive paperwork, obtaining permits, and logistics management by dealing with the Union as well as state governments and local agencies, diplomatic sources told ThePrint.

Foreign embassies and missions in India have been carrying out massive exercises to send their citizens back home since the lockdown was imposed in India on 24 March to contain the spread of coronavirus, with severe travel restrictions including a temporary ban on international commercial flights.


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What US, UK and Brazil are doing

On Friday, the US embassy and its consulates gave a “final call” to its citizens, asking them to fill up a form to be able to leave by 12 April. This came even as the Delhi mission reassessed the demand for repatriation flights by arranging a “potential final set of special chartered flights”.

The US has repatriated over 2,700 people since the lockdown began. The country is still running large operations in sending its citizens back by operating special flights at regular intervals.

“Operating in a country under lockdown is not easy and there have been many challenges. We have needed to work closely with the Government of India at the Centre and at state levels,” a US embassy spokesperson told ThePrint.

US Ambassador to India Ken Juster has been personally monitoring the process. He visited the Delhi airport Sunday when 236 Americans were sent back home. The embassy has also arranged special buses to bring US nationals scattered across the country to the designated airports.

The repatriation flights, mostly operated by United Airlines and Delta Airlines, are following the New Delhi to San Francisco, and the Mumbai-Atlanta routes. However, passengers have been asked to “reimburse the U.S. government for the cost of the flight” by signing a promissory note. Those who have left until now have had to pay anywhere between $2000 and $2500 on a per-person basis.

Meanwhile, the British High Commission in India has announced that it will be flying 12 additional flights to fly out 3,000 more British nationals.

So far, the high commission has sent back over 2,000 British citizens who were visiting India as tourists or for business purposes.

According to the diplomatic sources, nearly 20,000 more British nationals have put in their request to return to the UK, which was why the high commission is scaling up the number of chartered flights, operated by British Airways, Titan Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

The high commission has been working round the clock to bring British citizens from across India to cities like Mumbai, New Delhi and Goa by plying special buses. But now, it will repatriate only those who were staying in the same state as the airport operating the flights.

This is due to the challenges in seeking appropriate permissions from local authorities as inter-state movement has become difficult with the sealing of borders, said the sources.

The Brazilian embassy in India has also sent back about 400 of its citizens who were scattered all over the country, at places like Rishikesh, Delhi and Mumbai. The Brazilians were sent to Sao Paulo directly from Delhi and Mumbai. The embassy had to ply 12 special buses to bring them to the designated airports, an embassy spokesperson said.

The next batch of nearly 380 Brazilians is now set to leave India on 14 April.


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France, Russia, Germany ask citizens to stay put

Nations like France, Russia and Germany, which have repatriated several thousands of their citizens in the first couple of weeks of the lockdown, have now asked their citizens to stay put where they are.

Speaking to ThePrint, a French Embassy spokesperson said, “Now the process is stopped as not that many are left to fill up special flights. However, if we are getting any last-minute urgent call we can always have them boarded Swiss Air or any other flight that are operated by other countries depending on availability of seats.”

The directive came after the French government flew eight special Air France and KLM flights from New Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Goa to take home its citizens.

Similarly, Russia has now decided that it won’t be running flights as frequently as earlier, asking its nationals to stay back in India, said sources.

Moscow has sent back over 1,000 citizens by operating four flights, of which two were run by Aeroflot. However, nearly 5,000 Russians are still in India, staying across the length and breadth of the country, said the sources.

However, those citizens who have return tickets during the period from 16 March to 31 May are eligible to get financial support of 2,400 roubles per person per day. Children under the age of 14 are entitled to 1,600 roubles per day, a spokesperson of the Russian Embassy in New Delhi told ThePrint.

“Flights are being organised in line with the capacities of the region or the city for the incoming flight,” the spokesperson said.

The issue was discussed during a recent phone call between Foreign Secretary Harsh V. Shringla and Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov.

Meanwhile, Germany has completely halted the process of repatriating its citizens out of India “due to constraints in dealing with certain rules”, like providing a confirmed list of passengers 96 hours before they board the flight, said sources.

So far, over 2,700 Germans who were staying in Goa, Mumbai, Bangalore, Thiruvananthapuram, Cochin, Chennai, Hyderabad and Kolkata have been sent back home. Some were also stranded in Dharamshala, Rishikesh and Haridwar.


Also read: Europe begins planning to lift lockdown as spread of virus slows


 

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