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India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar Image Credit: Reuters

New Delhi: The largest number of Indians returning to the jobs they had left abroad last year due to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been to the Gulf, India’s External Affairs Minister, Dr. S. Jaishankar, told Parliament on Monday.

“The focus of our efforts in the last few months has now shifted to Indians going back to their usual places of work, study and domicile,” Jaishankar said in identical statements to both Houses of Parliament. “The largest numbers, not surprisingly, have gone to the Gulf.”

This would suggest efficient management of the health challenge in the Gulf, a vast improvement in the situation compared to the height of the pandemic and a resurgence in opportunities that were lost when the virus struck.

He said a total of 4,582,043 Indians from 98 countries returned home during the pandemic. About 39 per cent of the returnees were workers, 39 per cent were professionals, six per cent were students, eight per cent were visitors and 4.7 per cent were stranded tourists.

During the same period, authorities facilitated the return from India of more than 110,000 foreign passport holders to 120 countries. “The largest repatriation exercise in the history of the world could not have happened without the goodwill and cooperation of partner governments,” Jaishankar said.

“We have been active in urging our partner governments to look sympathetically at the employment of our citizens as they chart their recovery pathway. The Gulf has been the focal point of our endeavours, though this is a global effort on our part.”

Jaishankar recalled that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has engaged leaders of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman. “Under his directions, I have travelled even during the COVID-19 period to the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman to discuss with the governments there the welfare of our people. I have also recently hosted the UAE Foreign Minister in India and expect to do so with that of Kuwait very soon.”