Coronavirus: Stranded Indians can't be flown home during lockdown, says minister

Coronavirus: Stranded Indians can't be flown home during lockdown, says minister

Dubai: India’s junior foreign minister has said that the government cannot facilitate the return of Indians stranded abroad during the current lockdown and international travel ban in his country.

In a Facebook post, V. Muraleedharan, India’s minister of state for External Affairs, said several Indians stranded abroad have approached him and his ministry requesting the government to facilitate their return back home during the current coronavirus pandemic.

“Since the international flight operations have been suspended, they cannot fly them back to India during the current lockdown period,” he said in the post which was written in his mother tongue Malayalam.

The minister’s clarification comes amidst efforts to fly home by several Indian expats in the UAE, including visitors who have been stranded here and residents who have emergency reasons to travel.

Afi Ahmed, a UAE-based Indian businessman, who had last month chartered nine flights to Muscat to help 1980 visit visa holders to change their visa, told Gulf News that he had been knocking the doors of all Indian officials concerned for arranging chartered flights from Dubai to help such people to return home.

“I have written to all the Indian ministers and diplomats concerned. But, it has been difficult to get the permission from the Indian side even though UAE airlines are now ready to operate such special flights,” he said.

However, the minister said in his post: “We can only help them [Indians wishing to fly home] with necessary facilities wherever they are.”

He said this has been conveyed to the crew of Malayalam film director Blessy and actor Prithviraj who are stuck in Jordan where they went for filming the movie Aadujeevitham.

“The central government has taken the same approach towards all the Indians abroad who wish to return home. Nobody can be given special facilities for flying home during this period of lockdown.”

Helplines for Indians abroad

Muraleedharan said stranded Indians can contact the respective Indian diplomatic missions in their place of current stay if they face any difficulties.

“India will take urgent steps to intervene for providing all necessary facilities for its citizens,” the post added.

The minister also attached an image of his Facebook post from March 21 in which he wrote about the government’s efforts to support the Indians stranded abroad. That includes a 24x7 control room under the Ministry of External Affairs.

The helpline numbers on which Indians abroad or their relatives can contact the control room are: +91112302113, +911123014104, +911123017905 and 1800128797 (toll free number)

No selective evacuation

“We get a lot of emails and requests from people who want to come home, some are unwell, some have bereavements in their families, but since international travel is affected so we cannot do selective evacuation,” the Hindustan Times quoted him as saying separetly on Friday.

Embassies and high commissions have been asked to step up; they have also been helping people whose visas have expired. It is not their job, but they are helping people renew their visas as well.

The minister said a lot of Indians who were abroad have been brought home with the last such flight coming from Iran.

“We have been carrying out evacuations, but since international travel has stalled, and there is a lockdown in India, we have through our high commissions and embassies ensured that food and other necessities of people of Indian origin are taken care of.”

COVID-19 cases

The minister also stated that the government is supporting Indians who have been tested positive for COVID-19.

“In fact, there are between 700-800 Indians abroad who are infected by the virus, even their needs are being taken care of,” he stated.

With 79 deaths and 472 new cases of COVID-19 taking the total to 3.374, the Indian government on Sunday announced an aggressive containment plan which is likely to be implemented even after the current lockdown till April 15.