Many Indians have been left stranded in different parts of the world owing to airlines “misinterpreting” travel advisories issued by the government, according to a senior official of the Ministry of External Affairs.
However, several airlines operating on international routes assert that the circulars lacked clarity, causing utter confusion on the ground.
“At least 20 Indians in London and 32 at Schipol, Amsterdam, were left behind by airlines because of the misinterpretation of guidelines. Travel advisories barred the entry of passengers coming from Europe or the U.K., but airlines barred those who had travelled from Canada or the U.S. to these countries from boarding,” Dammu Ravi, Additional Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs, told The Hindu .
He was referring to passengers transiting through the Heathrow airport in London and Schipol in Amsterdam and being carried by foreign carriers. He added that Indian missions in these countries had requested the airlines to board these passengers but the carriers asked for a clarification in writing.
It is evident from social media accounts that such instances are not restricted to one or two countries, but are widespread. Business consultant Rajesh Saigal took to Twitter to post his appeal to External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and ask how India could deny the return of its own citizens. He was offloaded by Singapore Airlines as he transited through Manila.
“Almost every country has banned tourist visas, so people have to be allowed back to their countries. I am only asking you to open your doors to Indians,” Mr. Saigal said in a video.
The Hindu spoke to executives of several airlines, who blamed the language of different advisories banning entry of passengers for the chaos. A senior executive of an international airline said many advisories omitted the status of passengers in transit, i.e., those travelling from a country from where there is no ban but catching a flight from which there is, or vice versa. This led to much confusion.
For instance, a circular issued on March 16 read, “Travel of passengers from member countries of the European Union, the European Free Trade Association, Turkey and the United Kingdom to India is prohibited with effect from 18th March 2020. The airline shall enforce this at the port of initial departure.”
When asked, officials of the Ministry of External Affairs said Indian missions were exploring all options for the return of passengers home, but with the government deciding to suspend all incoming flights from March 22 for a week, thousands of Indians around the world wanting to return have only one day, Saturday, to find a way home.