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Coronavirus | MEA assisted safe evacuation of over 1.2 lakh foreigners stranded in India during lockdown: Official

(Photo for representation purpose only):An Air India flight lands at Chandigarh International airport in carrying 63 Indian residents from New York under Vande Bharat Mission on Friday, May 22 2020.

(Photo for representation purpose only):An Air India flight lands at Chandigarh International airport in carrying 63 Indian residents from New York under Vande Bharat Mission on Friday, May 22 2020.   | Photo Credit: AKHILESH KUMAR

The Ministry of External Affairs assisted safe evacuation of over 1.2 lakh foreign citizens from 118 nations stranded in India during the lockdown, a senior MEA official said on Thursday.

Sanjay Bhattacharyya, Secretary, Consular, Passport and Visa (CPV) and Overseas Indian Affairs (OIA) in the Ministry of External Affairs, said the COVID-19 has emerged as the biggest challenge to humanity in the 21st century as this “invisible enemy” has infected people in millions and killed in hundreds of thousands.

Speaking at the Regional Consultations (Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, ILO) on evacuation and repatriation of migrants during COVID-19, he said that for India, the welfare and protection of its citizens abroad was a key priority as the pandemic broke out.

“Initially we organised evacuation missions for our citizens from China, Italy and Iran (where the contagion took early roots). Subsequently, we closed our airspace, in line with domestic lockdown norms, but opened up with easing of movements within the country,” he said.

The government commenced repatriation operations under the Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) on May 7 to facilitate the return of Indian nationals stranded abroad, but having compelling reasons, in a phased manner, Mr. Bhattacharyya said.

These operations involved non-scheduled commercial flights by Air India and later other airlines, ships of the Indian Navy in Operation Samudra Setu and land border crossings, he said.

“The Vande Bharat Mission is the largest, most complex and challenging exercise ever undertaken by the government for repatriation of our nationals stranded overseas, despite our earlier experience in Libya, Kuwait, Yemen and others,” he said.

Also read: Vande Bharat Mission | Over 1,000 return to India on six flights

It involved coordination with foreign governments, their embassies in India, Indian embassies abroad, and internally with ministries such as Home, Civil Aviation, Health and the State governments, he said.

“Our COVID team with state coordinators worked hard to keep flights active to bring home our stranded citizens,” Mr. Bhattacharyya said.

The MEA assisted safe evacuation of over 1.2 lakh foreign citizens from 118 nations stranded in India during the lockdown, he said.

Besides, several citizens from our neighbourhood also returned on Vande Bharat Mission fights, he said.

The MEA developed a dynamic online platform available to all stakeholders for seamless integration, data applications and success of the Mission, he said.

During the Vande Bharat Mission, screening and, in some cases, testing of passengers was done before departure, to prevent spread of the virus, Mr. Bhattacharyya said.

Out of more than 5 lakh returnees, only 941 COVID-19 cases were detected, which translates to 0.188%, he said.

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Printable version | Aug 13, 2020 11:28:18 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/mea-assisted-safe-evacuation-of-over-12-lakh-foreigners-stranded-in-india-during-lockdown-official/article32036783.ece

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