Evacuation plans may be hit

Increasingly worried by the deteriorating security situation in Yemen, the Union government is trying to step up efforts to evacuate nearly 2,000 Indian nationals from the capital city of Sana’a and other places.

On Saturday, Air India planes were given clearance to conduct another rescue operation for another batch of 350 passengers, who will land in India overnight by the C-17 aircraft of the Indian Air Force from Djibouti.

Since Tuesday, when the Indian Navy and Air Force launched “Operation Raahat” to evacuate the remaining Indians from Yemen, they have been able to bring 1,350 people to safety, the government says. Those numbers include 11 foreign nationals — three Pakistanis, three Bangladeshis, two Nepalese, two Ugandan and one Djibouti national — who were working for an Indian company. India has also accepted the Sri Lankan government’s request to evacuate their nationals, but said they could only bring them from the point and time of evacuation when “the opportunity arises.”

A difficult operation is under way to evacuate those stranded at Aden, after the port there was closed due to increased fighting between groups, including Houthi rebels, government troops and even Al Qaeda fighters.

“Fortunately, we have been able to maintain contact with the warring factions in control there, and Indians have not been targeted,” a senior government official said. Even so, with the port closed, officials have had to organise small boats to take passengers out to the high sea where Indian ships are waiting to bring them to Djibouti. From the passenger boats, they have to scale rope-ladders to a three-metre height, an arduous climb, especially for women and children, officials said.

A majority of the stranded Indians remain in Sana’a where the airport was damaged by airstrikes launched by a Saudi-led coalition. Even after repairs, only smaller planes can land. While the Saudi Arabian government has no international mandate, it unofficially controls the Yemeni airspace, and Indian officials have to negotiate timings for further missions into Sana’a on a “day-by-day” basis for “verbal clearances”, which considerably delays the planning process.

The permissions for using the Sana’a airport, the only one working in Yemen, are also tenuous, as Houthi rebels controlling the area keep moving their missiles around at night, making the flight path unsafe. A “sand-storm” formation has been worrying pilots for the past two days.

Amid all the worries, including increased fighting, officials are hopeful of bringing out all the Indians registered for evacuation in the next few days, if they continue to get permission to land Air India planes in Sana’a, while INS Mumbai is docked off Aden waters and other passenger ships are hopeful of making another evacuation from Al Hudaydah.

Arrangements are being made for road travel by others from smaller towns such as Al-Mukalla, Tai’zz, Ibb and Hadhramaut. To boost the numbers of officials processing them in the neighbouring country of Djibouti, which is the pivot of the Indian operations, External Affairs Ministry officials said six more officers were being sent to Djibouti on Saturday.

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Printable version | Apr 21, 2021 11:29:32 AM |

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