Dubai - Indian missions will be asked to compile a list and repatriation will be coordinated with respective states.
With three Indian naval war ships and 500 aircraft on standby, the India government has given clear indication that it is all set to undertake in what could be the biggest repatriation operation of stranded Indian diaspora from the Gulf countries amid the coronavirus crisis.
As the clamour for repatriation is rising from hundreds of thousands of Indians in the virus-hit Gulf countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said on Tuesday that blue collar workers, who are hard hit by the global pandemic, will get the first seats in special repatriation flights. Students stranded in foreign countries will be next and then Indians who were travelling for work.
"The Prime Minister was very clear that the Indian expatriate workforce should get the first choice to return," a top government official was quoted by Hindustan Times.
The official said Indian missions will be asked to compile a list and repatriation will be coordinated with respective states.
"It will be a complicated exercise. Indian missions abroad will compile a list of people who want to return to India, prioritise them and then coordinate with the states concerned. When they eventually land in India, everyone would have to be screened to figure if the person should be sent to a quarantine centre or straight to the hospital," the official said.
The foreign ministry will have to set up a dedicated control room for this mammoth exercise, he added.
Indian new agency ANI on Tuesday quoted a top government official as saying that the government is assessing the scenario and finding the plan to evacuate Indians from the Gulf countries. "We have asked Air India and Indian Navy for a detailed evacuation plan." ANI report said.
The Indian Navy, in their detailed evacuation plan submitted to the government, has mentioned that it "can evacuate 1,500 Indians from the Gulf countries in three warships of the navy."
Amid the coronavirus scare, thousands of Indians have expressed willingness to come back to India from the Gulf countries, but due to the suspension of air operations and other modes of travel, they have been stuck there.
India has suspended all kinds of travel until May 3 as the country continues to be under coronavirus-induced lockdown.
Government sources also stressed that "many Indians have contacted the embassies through social media and emails, showing a willingness to return to their homes".
"Around 10 million Indians are in Gulf countries and many of them are living in port cities, and that is why the government has also asked Indian Navy to give a detailed plan for evacuation through sea routes," sources said.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has already started consultations with the states and union territories (UT) for the necessary arrangements to start the process.
"We have started our consultation with the governments of states/UTs for the necessary arrangements. Similarly, all missions are also told to make a detailed report for those who have shown their willingness to return back to India and provide full assistance to them," MEA sources told ANI.
Speaking to Khaleej Times, Indian Consul-General to Dubai Vipul said they are still waiting for official confirmation from Delhi on the matter of repatriation. The mode of evacuation will be decided by the government of India and I am sure that Air India will be involved as well."
He said the mission would facilitate an online registration process once they get the go-ahead from Delhi. "Again, we are awaiting final clarifications from Delhi on this issue as well."
Other diplomatic sources said the central government is in the 'planning process' and as soon as foreign missions receive instructions on what kind of data they are looking for, registrations will begin accordingly on a priority basis.
The central government has given indication that repatriation will depend on the readiness of respective state governments to receive hundreds and thousands of Gulf returnees. Kerala's Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said his state is well-prepared to accommodate 200,000 expatriates and the state has acquired stadiums, resorts, schools and other commercial buildings and converted them to quarantine centres.
As reported by Khaleej Times, community groups in the UAE had expressed concerns about the swelling number of people wanting to go back.
Norka Roots, the Kerala government's welfare body for non-resident Keralites, had on Sunday launched a website to accept registrations for Malayalis wishing to return home. A staggering 150,000 people registered on the website within hours, indicating the number of people who wish to go back amid the pandemic.
(With inputs from Dhanusha Gokulan and ANI)