Representative image (PTI)
NEW DELHI: India has brought back over 28,500 nationals stranded in over 30 countries during the first two phases of a massive and complex repatriation process. While MEA is the lead ministry handling the Vande Bharat and Samudra Setu missions, officials said it involves close coordination with a whole bunch of other ministries.
The breakup of the people returning went something like this — 4921 students, 3969 professionals, 5936 workers, 3254 tourists, 3588 visitors, 610 deportees, 429 who were granted amnesty in different countries, 551 crew as well as 5272 from different categories, altogether 28,532 Indian nationals.
They have come back from 30 different countries — including UAE with the maximum number at 4,243, followed by the UK at 3,186, and the US at 2,678 making the top countries.
In addition, Navy Vessels brought back 1,488 Indians, while other countries’ aircraft, coming to India to pick up their own citizens brought back 910 people.
Along with Air India, charter flights were also requisitioned by the government, which brought back 418 people. The lockdown period also saw 970 deportees being sent back — for instance, on May 23, Saudi Arabia deported 237 Indians and UAE deported 100.
The Gulf saw the most returnees — Kuwait at 2,072, Oman at 1,926, Saudi Arabia at 1,778 and Qatar at 1,432, 830 came back from Bahrain and 315 from Iran. It reinforced, if any was needed, India’s deep ties with all the Gulf countries. At the other end are some Central Asian countries like Uzbekistan (21), while the official carriers had to go through hoops to get 24 people back from Argentina and 41 from Chile, flying through different countries.
The government also brought back 162 people from Nepal, 652 people from Italy, which was hard because Italy was the epicentre of Covid — mainly professionals and students, while those in Iran were almost all pilgrims.
Kerala took the bulk of the returnees 8,574, followed by Tamil Nadu (2,679), Delhi (2,444), Telangana (2,249) and Maharashtra (2,058) in the top five. Strangely, 186 people are “unspecified”, that is, it’s not clear which state they have come from.
The difficult state, according to officials, was West Bengal, which started out saying they didn’t actually want their people to return. This led to a strange situation particularly in Bangladesh, where a large number of Indian nationals are from Bengal — so the repatriation flights were bringing back people to J&K, Meghalaya and Bihar, but not Bengal. It took protests by Bengalis in Bangladesh and from other countries that forced the Trinamool government to relent, bringing back 288 people from overseas.
This weekend saw the close of Phase II of the VBM-SS missions, but officials say these missions will continue until regular international flights resume. The government has, this week, made it possible for some OCI holders to also come to India.