India sends naval ship and aircraft in ‘massive’ coronavirus repatriation from UAE

File photo of Air India Express Boeing 737-800 aircraft. (Supplied)

India has embarked on a “massive” operation involving naval ships and aircraft to bring back some of the hundreds of thousands of nationals stuck abroad due to coronavirus restrictions, the government said.

India banned all incoming international flights in late March as it imposed one of the world’s strictest virus lockdowns, leaving vast numbers of workers and students stranded.

A defense spokesman told AFP on Tuesday that two ships were steaming towards the Maldives and another to the United Arab Emirates - home to a 3.3-million-strong Indian community, who make up around 30 percent of the Gulf state’s population.

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A government statement said the evacuations would begin on Thursday and that Indian embassies and high commissions were preparing lists of “distressed Indian citizens.”

Read more: Coronavirus: ‘Distressed’ Indians in GCC will be given priority in evacuation plans

The consulate in Dubai said that it alone had almost 200,000 applications, appealing on Twitter for “patience and cooperation” as India undertakes the “massive task” of repatriation.

The Gulf state is reliant on the labor of millions of foreigners - mostly from India, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

The UAE has been among other Gulf countries demanding that governments take workers back, with almost 23,000 having left as of April 20.

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But New Delhi had until now balked at the logistical and safety nightmare of repatriating and quarantining millions of returning citizens.

India had earlier evacuated some 2,500 Indians from China, Japan, Iran and Italy before banning international and domestic travel.

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Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:58 - GMT 06:58
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