New Delhi: Four Indian naval ships have set sail to bring back stranded Indians, including from Maldives, as part of the Narendra Modi government’s massive evacuation plan for people stuck in neighbouring countries and in the Gulf, Europe and US.
According to sources, two ships are heading for Maldives. While the initial plan for the other two was to send them to the United Arab Emirates, sources said it could not be confirmed as the situation is dynamic and the destination could change.
Sources said landing ship tanks INS Shardul and INS Magar, and INS Jalashwa, are among the ships diverted for evacuation. The fourth ship wasn’t identified.
“The four ships were on mission deployment and have been diverted to bring back the Indians,” a Navy official said on condition of anonymity, refusing to divulge more details.
According to sources, Indian embassies in the countries concerned have already started making a list of those stranded — including several thousands who have lost their jobs, or with expired work permits — due to travel restrictions and lockdowns imposed around the world to contain the spread of Covid-19.
At least 30 aircraft of the Indian Air Force along with 11 more ships of the Navy are on standby for deployment to various countries for evacuation, said the sources.
India had carried out one of the biggest-ever evacuations in the world when it brought back about 1.7 lakh citizens in 1990 after Iraq went to war with Kuwait. Five years ago, the Modi government had evacuated over 5,500 people, including 1,000 foreign nationals, from Yemen after Saudi Arabia launched air strikes against Iranian-allied Houthi rebels.
What the government said
In a statement Monday, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) said the evacuation of lakhs of Indians stranded abroad will begin from 7 May in a phased manner.
The return of Indian nationals will be arranged by both aircraft and naval ships and a standard operating procedure has been prepared, it said. For air travel, non-scheduled commercial flights will be arranged. This facility would be made available on a payment basis.
The evacuation of Indians before the lockdown was imposed on 25 March didn’t entail payment from evacuees.