Air India generic
Air India jets at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. India is set to begin repatriating stranded citizens abroad from May 7. Image Credit: AP

New Delhi: India is set to begin its largest overseas evacuation of stranded Indian nationals abroad since Independence. The operation to bring back Indians stranded in various countries due to airspace closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic will commence in a phased manner, the first phase to begin as early as this week.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has prepared a chart for the evacuation of over 14,000 Indian nationals stranded in 13 foreign countries by 64 flights in week 1 of the operation.

According to the MEA plan shared with the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) that is set to begin from May 7, approximately 14,800 passengers will be evacuated from 13 countries. Flights from India will fly to the Philippines, Singapore, Bangladesh, UAE, UK, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Singapore, Phillippines, USA, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait. The first day of evacuation will see 10 flights repatriate 2,300 Indians.

On Day 2, around 2,050 Indian nationals will arrive in Chennai, Kochi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru and Delhi from nine countries, according to the plan.

On Day 3, some 2050 stranded nationals are expected to arrive in Mumbai, Kochi, Lucknow and Delhi from 13 countries spread across the Middle East, Europe, South East Asia and USA.

On Day 4 of the plan, the aviation ministry in collaboration with the MEA will evacuate 1850 stranded nationals from eight countries, including the USA, UK and the UAE.

Prior to boarding the evacuation flights, all people coming to India are required to fill-up a form and submit a copy each to the Health and Immigration Counter at arrival. The passengers are required to state whether they are suffering from fever, cough, diabetes or any respiratory disease. This form is similar to the one filled by passengers arriving back into the country during the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The government’s official guidelines say all passengers will be screened before they are allowed to board flights for their return, and only asymptomatic passengers would be allowed to travel. During the journey, they will have to follow the protocols such as those issued by the Health Ministry and the Civil Aviation Ministry.

This airlift by the MEA would be the largest since the Gulf War evacuation of over 170,000 people from Kuwait in 1990. Similar evacuations were also seen in April 2015, when Operation Raahat was launched to evacuate Indians from war-torn Yemen.