Envoys across continents praise India for mammoth evacuation exercise
The role of the embassies were not merely confined in facilitating evacuation but active support to their nationals in far flung areas of India
India based diplomatic missions from across continents have so far been able to repatriate around 40,000 nationals since mid-March with active support from MEA and other authorities in what can be described as one the biggest evacuation exercises in human history in recent decades. These include 4834 Japanese nationals, 3197 German nationals, 2833 Malaysian nationals, 1581 Israeli nationals, 1810 French citizens, 3486 US citizens, 1384 Canadian citizens, 4448 UK nationals, 1600 Canadians, 2687 Afghan nationals and 1500 Russian nationals.
Evacuation of nationals of Ukraine, Finland, Ireland, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Ireland, France, Austria, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Belarus, Poland, Hungary, Switzerland, Czech Republic, Iraq, Oman, Maldives, Singapore, Australia, Sweden, South Korea, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Bangladesh, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Iran, Bhutan, Nepal, Brazil and many other nations has also been facilitated.
The role of the Embassies were not merely confined in facilitating evacuation alone but active support to their nationals in far flung areas of India from ashrams in hills to shores of Goa to interior historical locations. An efficient coordination mechanism was set up among EU members to allow everyone to benefit from operating flights to Europe. Several ambassadors shared their views with ET.
In an exclusive chat with ET American Ambassador to India Kenneth I. Juster said, “The U.S. Mission to India has repatriated approximately 3,500 American citizens from throughout India to the United States on 15 international flights. These have included elderly Americans as well as adopted children and even a two-week old baby. We are working to arrange additional chartered flights for American citizens and their families seeking to return home. Our Embassy and Consulates across India continue to provide essential services to American citizens and U.S. companies in India.”
Praising the role of the MEA in the process Japanese Ambassador to India Satoshi Suzuki told ET, “The Japanese Embassy has been working closely with the Indian Government as well as Japanese airlines to help those Japanese wishing to return to Japan under the current lockdown. In total, over 4000 persons were flown to Japan by 26 relief flights operated by Japan Airlines and All Nippon Airways from Delhi, Chennai, Mumbai and Bengaluru, with the assistance of a countless number of Indian officials, both from Union and State governments. We are eternally thankful for this.”
“I believe that many of the Japanese people that still remain in India are determined to stay and fight the COVID-19 Pandemic together with our Indian friends. We strongly hope that the current lockdown will help to contain the spread of this virus, and intend to do our part in achieving this goal. As our Prime Ministers have discussed in a recent telephone conversation, the India-Japan partnership could play a critical role in helping the world find solutions to the challenges arising out of the pandemic. We look forward to working with India, not just to overcome these difficult times, but to re-boost our economies in the post-COVID world,” Suzuki added.
European economic powerhouse Germany has not only evacuated its citizens but also other neighbouring countries in Europe in coordination with the EU mission in Delhi. “At the onset of lockdown there were 5,000 Germans in India which included those with residence permits in Germany on short term visas. We set up a crisis centre and so far have repatriated over 3,000 Germans and other European citizens. From coordinating flights to contacting Germans in far flung areas of India to arranging their passes was not an easy task. We set up a hotline and the Ministry of External Affairs has been extremely helpful in this endeavour,” Walter J Lindner, German envoy to India told ET.
Expressing similar sentiments, South Korean envoy to India Shin Bongkil told ET, “The Korean Embassy has been playing the daunting role of assisting Koreans all over India who wishes to go back to Korea - we sent vehicles to the Himalayas to bring stranded Koreans back to Delhi so that they can board returning flights, also I’ve issued letters so that anyone who was in possession of my letter would not be hindered when travelling to the airport.”
“The Embassy has also been enthralled with the task of calming the Korean community in these times of difficulty and uncertainty - through constant posting on our website and Facebook pages we were able to alleviate great apprehensions and panicking. Almost all calls made to the Embassy these days seem to be from the Korean community who have so many queries about what to foresee in India,” Bongkil said, adding, “As the Embassy, in close consultation with the airlines and the Korean Community Association, provide more flights to repatriate Koreans back to Korea, I believe the Korean community is in a more calmed state, compared to the beginning of the lockdown. So far (as of April 20th) almost 700 Koreans have been repatriated, and by the end of this month we will have 1400 more Koreans leave India. (We have almost 15000 Koreans living in India, so this is less than 10%... mainly tourists and family members of Korean businesses).”
Russian Ambassador to India Nikolay Kudashev noted, “I would like to thank our partners in @MEAIndia, @DGCAIndia as well as local administrations and police of various states for their kind support and selfless effort in these challenging times.”
Referring to excellent government to government cooperation, French Envoy to India Emmanuel Lenain told ET, “From the very beginning of the coronavirus crisis, our respective political authorities have been working closely together: it’s during tough times that the full significance of our partnership comes to the fore. On 31st March, President Macron and Prime Minister Modi once again had a long telephonic meeting. They fixed the areas of collaboration, discussed best practices, shared the latest information, particularly on research on a vaccine, and coordinated their international initiatives. President Macron confirmed that France would grant exceptional financial aid for protecting the most vulnerable people in India. Our respective ministers of Foreign Affairs regularly hold discussions on the global situation and that of our two countries in the face of this pandemic.
“These high-level discussions were backed by work on the ground for repatriating French citizens visiting India. Within a few weeks, thanks to the excellent cooperation of India’s central and local authorities, we were able to organise the departure of French travellers from Kolkata, Kochi, Goa, Bengaluru, Chennai, Mumbai. But to reach these cities, we first chartered buses to bring them from Pushkar, Rishikesh, Dehradun, Manali, Mandi, Amritsar, Varanasi, Amritsar, Ahmedabad, Pune, Surat, Cochin, Hyderabad, Trivandrum, and some on. Since the suspension of international flights, more than 2,200 travellers have thus been able to return to France.”
Italy has been one of the worst affected in the Covid crisis. While assisting the large Indian community in Italy, the Italian Embassy in India also had a mammoth task of attending to the needs of Italians here. “Since the very beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Embassy of Italy set up a task force to assist Italians that were temporarily in India for business or leisure purposes, and that had asked to be repatriated to Italy. After the Government of India suspended all international flights, the Embassy organized 3 special envoys to bring stranded Italians back home. Two of them left from New Delhi and one from Goa. In the upcoming days, a fourth flight will be operated from Bangalore. On top of flights organized by Italy, we were able to repatriate many nationals through flights operated by our European partners. An efficient coordination mechanism was set up among EU members to allow everyone to benefit from operating flights to Europe. Overall, to date, we repatriated 554 Italians from India. By next week, the number will reach over 650,” informed Vincenzo de Luca Ambassador of Italy in India.
“These flights were made possible thanks to the great cooperation with the Indian authorities, who made sure that the complex process of repatriation moved as smoothly as possible. In fact, many permits were required, not only by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation, but also by local authorities, who granted authorization for cross-State transfer thus allowing our nationals to reach the airports. Throughout the operations, we kept close contacts with all Institutions, including the Embassy of India in Rome, assisting where possible also to their relief efforts of bringing home Indian students stranded in Italy,” the Italian envoy said, adding, “Furthermore, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare provided exceptional assistance making sure that the 16 Italians that were tested positive to Covid19 while on vacation in India, received the best possible treatment. I am grateful to the authorities and to the medical staff that followed each patient with great professionalism. I believe that the response to this global health emergency has proven a crucial thing: the importance of international cooperation and multilateralism. During this crisis, there has been a convergence of views between Italy, India and the European Union. We all agree on the importance of relaunching multilateral cooperation by establishing new innovative tools to foster common actions and tackle global issues. It is in fact in times of crisis that one can measure the efficiency of international cooperation and take action to foster improvements where needed.”
Similar sentiments were expressed by envoys of Israel and Australia. “Getting our Israeli nationals home was a jigsaw puzzle which included connecting with those who wished to go home, coordinating the route for evacuation with local authorities and getting special travel permits under the lockdown. Thanks to the assistance and good will on the part of the Indian authorities we were able to return thousands of Israelis to Israel on 7 flights from Delhi, Mumbai and Goa.,” remarked Israeli Ambassador to India Ron Malka. Australian High Commissioner designate Barry O Farrell had an equally daunting task. “So far we have assisted in the repatriation of 900 persons through chartered flights. Three more flights are planned in the next two days. We have 6,000 Australians registered with our missions. We could also reach our citizens in Punjab and Haryana.”
Meanwhile a British High Commission spokesperson said, “The UK government has announced a series of special charter flights to get British nationals home. So far we have announced 38 charter flights from 10 states across India which will help over 9,000 people return to the UK. We continue to work around the clock to help as many people as possible. British nationals in India should read and follow our travel advice, and follow the advice of the local authorities. We are working closely with the Government of India, state governments and local authorities to ensure British travellers are able to return home safely. We are grateful for the support we have received to date”
India is also a key destination for nationals from Thailand. Thai Ambassador to India Chutintorn Sam Gongsakdi has been at the forefront of assisting Thais in India. “Assisting our nationals in distress is a policy priority and our stakeholders measure our performance by it. In a crisis, going home is the security that most people seek. This is the same with COVID-19. In fulfilling the objective of repatriation, balance is sought between several considerations, including safety of the host country and the home country. As international travel is a major cause of viral transmission, precautions, volume and timing are important.”
“Meanwhile, we have to manage the anxiety of our stranded nationals as their anxiety grows with time. Raising false hope is also something to be carefully avoided as COVID-19 occurs in a state of regulatory flux as governments scramble to control the virus. So, providing absolute certainty is harder than under normal circumstances and rumours are rife. In the meantime, maintaining close contact through Consular Hotlines, social media and media channels, as well as providing care packages are ways and means to keep stranded nationals calm and comforted. Care packages, while expected, are not always easy to deliver due to nation-wide lockdown. My biggest ask of people of all races is to not discriminate against one another on grounds of COVID-19. Most of all, do not discriminate against your own nationals that want to return to a place that they are also fully entitled to call ‘home’.
In the extended neighbourhood Oman repatriated its nationals through its national carrier. “The Embassy of Oman, New Delhi opened a 24 x 7 helpline to register Omani nationals in India on direction from *His Majesty* to its Government to evacuate Omani Nationals from around the world stranded due to COVID 19. MEA has been very supportive and proactive to approve special Evacuation Flight requests by the Embassy, operated by Oman air. The MEA also helped in getting Curfew permits from the respective state government to allow Omani Nationals to move to the airport during lockdown to board the flight. Oman air operated flight to India to airlift 111 Omanis from Kochi, Bangalore and Chennai on 3rd April, 2020. The evacuation operation was well coordinated by Indian authorities and it reflected the strong friendly ties that exist between two friendly countries,” according to Sheikh Hamad Bin Saif Al Rawahi, Oman’s envoy to India
Two of India’s close partners in North Africa Morocco and Tunisia are engaged closely in assisting their nationals in India. “The Embassy is in permanent contact with all Moroccans stranded in India and in the neighbouring countries which it covers as well. For those who run short of money, or request it, the Embassy pays their stay and accommodation in their hotels and also medication in need. Most of the countries have closed their air space including Morocco, which took this step before most countries as all the infected vases came from abroad. So we will bring necessary Consular assistance in different forms and according to specific needs until this Covid-19 nightmare is over,” according to Mohammed Maliki. Ambassador of Morocco here.
Expressing his sentiments Ambassador of Tunisia in India Nejmeddine Lakhal told ET, “I was concerned about Tunisian citizens who are in different regions of India for studying, training, internship, working, or for visiting, and Ayurveda treatments. How will they be able to go back home, how about visas expired? A kind nightmare for the head of a mission, who has no idea about what’s next in such an unusual situation. Fortunately, it went smoothly. There was no panic, no complaints, and Tunisian citizens steadfastly abided by the measures and restrictions of the Lockdown. Some of them express the desire to go back home, others prefer to stay in India. But the measures of exception taken by the Indian authorities to facilitate the extension of visas process made things very comfortable for all of us.”
India’s key partner in Latin America Brazil too faced a challenging task in repatriation. André Aranha Corrêa do Lago, Brazilian envoy to India noted, “On Tuesday 14 April 344 people flew back to São Paulo on a government chartered flight. They came from 37 places in India and Nepal. The Embassy set up chartered bus routes that covered over 5,500 km and stopped at 16 meeting points throughout the country. The ground transport operation started 4 days before the flight. Passengers boarded in Delhi and Mumbai and after 30 hours and 2 refueling stops landed in São Paulo. Without the cooperation of the MEA (COVID Cell abs LAC Division) and 17 state governments and local police forces, we wouldn’t have been able to carry out this operation. It was particularly challenging - but our Brazilian and Indian staff at the Embassy went well above and beyond the line of duty. No further flights are planned as the vast majority of Brazilians still in India — around 200 — are residents or here on work contracts. We still continue to keep in touch with them and, in close coordination with the Consulate General in Mumbai, extend our assistance whenever needed.”
From Europe Netherlands has been at the forefront to organise repatriation flights. Dutch Ambassador to India, Marten Van Den Berg, told ET, “In close collaboration with the Indian government we have organised and are still organising relief flights. We also work closely together with our EU colleagues to coordinate our efforts to bring stranded tourists home. As our tourists are all over India it is a lot of work to get the stranded tourists to the airports. We also help tourists to get transport and permission so they are able to travel to the airports.”
Heaping praise on MEA Polish Ambassador to India Adam Burakowski told ET, “We got enormous help from MEA. Especially Secretary West Vikas Swarup, Covid Secretary Dammu Ravi and Additional Secretary Suresh Reddy. Poland is grateful to MEA for their help. Our flights also repatriated nationals from Central Europe – Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria and Romania.” Expressing similar sentiments Serbian envoy to India Vladimir Maric who faced challenges in repatriating citizens lauded the role of MEA and in particular the role of Suresh Reddy for assistance.
The Grand Dutchy of Luxembourg too heaped praises on MEA. Ambassador Jean Claude Kugener told ET, “We actively and very seriously follow the rules and decisions taken by the Indian Government to fight this pandemic. The Embassy needs meanwhile to remain operational to assist our citizens, the Luxembourgers stranded in India and the Indians who live and work in the Grand Duchy, to return home. Since the very beginning of the COVID19 pandemic, we have received full support from our various interlocutors in the Indian Government also for assisting our companies in India.”
“Before the national lockdown I reduced the Embassy staff to its absolute minimum in order to continue our daily consular and embassy related work. It is particularly important for a small Embassy to remain functional. With my small team we have already assisted dozens and dozens of stranded people from Goa to Rishikesh and Udaipur to Delhi. Continued problem solving from Airline cancellations to Hotel booking difficulties to interactions with Hospitals among others. Being co-accredited in Nepal and Sri Lanka we support our citizens from Delhi with the precious continued help of our Honorary Consuls.”
“Since the lockdown, we count on the support of our EU friends and some Government’s repatriation flights where our citizens could join the respective country’s nationals in close cooperation with the EU Ambassador and his colleagues who do a tremendous work in assisting us. We are of course facing challenges as everybody else, but my small team of Diplomats and Locally recruited Staff is very dedicated and I am very grateful as well to our colleagues and contacts at the MEA who continue in supporting us.”
Sharing his experience Turkish Ambassador to India Sakir Ozkan Torunlar said, “Since the airlines operating scheduled flights suspended their programmes and the first announcement of country-wide lockdown announced by PM Modi, the Turkish Embassy in Delhi and 2 Consulates General in Mumbai and Hyderabad received calls from less than 200 Turkish nationals stranded in 15 different states of India. Few days ago, the Government of Turkey announced that India will be among the 65 nations where stranded nationals will be evacuated in the coming days.”
“As soon as plans are finalised, most probably before the end of the month, stranded Turkish nationals will be given the opportunity to reserve their seats. Their travels within the country will be organised in coordination with the Cell established in the MEA. So far, though not many in number, some Turkish nationals who approached Turkish missions for their little needs were given assistance to the best of their capacities while strictly abiding with the prohibitory rules announced by the GoI, ” informed Tornular.
From Nordic region Ambassador of Norway Hans Jacob Frydenlund told ET that MEA has been very forthcoming in assisting the Embassy with regard to repatriation. He described logistics as a challenge under current circumstances but referred to assistance for Norwegian citizens in India.
From Central Europe Slovenia too had its citizens airlifted. “Initially we advised them to take their original flights and after the lock down we coordinated possible evacuation flights among EU countries. The EU coordination works very well and it's a good example of solidarity. A bigger challenge was ground transportation to airports and we needed special permissions. But in the end this went ok as well. We have few left and for some have to find options for ground transportation. Priorities are those with medical and other urgent issues,” according to Slovenian Ambassador to India Dr. Marjan Cencen.
Courtesy: Economic Times