In the first phase of the mission called Vande Bharat Mission, around 15,000 people will be evacuated from May 7 to 13.

The first phase of the Indian government’s mass evacuation mission called Vande Bharat Mission, to bring scores of stranded expatriates back to the country, will kick start on May 7, Thursday. Lakhs of people, stranded across the world due to the COVID-19 pandemic, are anxiously waiting to return to their natives. However, considering the sheer volume of individuals who wish to fly back, the Indian government has prioritised who should be brought back in the first phase of the mission.

According to sources, the Centre has categorised those to be brought back to the country into different groups based on the list of people given by the state governments.

As per the present plans, those facing deportation in foreign countries, people who have lost jobs, those with expired visas, people with medical emergencies, pregnant women, aged expatriates, students whose hostels have been shut and people with family emergencies, will be flown back.

Notably, the prioritised groups will almost cover all vulnerable and high-risk category (those more susceptible to coronavirus) individuals stranded abroad. Incidentally, the expatriates listed to be evacuated by most state governments fall under the priority category.

In the first phase of the mission spanning across seven days, starting from Thursday, 14,800 people will be evacuated in 64 flights from 12 countries — the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Malaysia, Philippines, Bangladesh, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman.

Of the 64 flights, 15 will land in Kerala, the state that has the largest number of non-resident Indians (NRIs) registered to come back to India.

Of the other south Indian states, 11 flights will land in Tamil Nadu, seven flights in Telangana and three in Karnataka. Maharashtra, Delhi, Gujrat, Punjab, Jammu and Kashmir and Uttar Pradesh airports, too, will receive these repatriation flights.

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However, people who are being brought back are not evacuated at the government expense. The Ministry of External Affairs has said that the travellers will have to cover their own cost of travel, including buying the flight tickets. The official pricing of tickets is yet to be revealed.

The present operations, in the first phase, will be carried out by the flights of Air India. It has been said that in the next phase, private airlines, too, might join the evacuation process.

Though a total figure of how many people will be brought back is not fixed yet, some state governments have asked why everyone on the respective state list would not be able to return.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Tuesday said that the Centre has informed that about 80,000 Kerala natives will be brought back in the mission. Whereas, the state government’s priority list contained over 1 lakh stranded people to be evacuated.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Union government suspended all existing visas granted to foreign nationals, who wish to visit India,till international air travel to and from India remains shut due to the coronavirus pandemic. The ministry also said it has kept in abeyance multiple-entry life-long visas given to Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) card holders till international travel remains suspended. However, the OCI card holders who are already in India can stay in the country for “any length of time”, it said. Any foreign national holding an OCI card who intends to travel to India for compelling reasons during the period may contact the nearest Indian mission, it said.

Read:

All NRIs who return to Kerala to be sent to govt quarantine centres upon arrival

Over 4 lakh NRIs register to return home to Kerala

Lay-offs in Gulf countries could be catastrophic for Kerala economy, experts warn

(With PTI inputs)

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