Over 3.6 lakh Indians have returned to India from abroad after the government launched the ''Vande Bharat'' evacuation mission on May 7 in view of the coronavirus pandemic, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Thursday.
External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said a total number of 5,13,047 Indians have registered their request with Indian missions abroad for repatriation to India on compelling grounds. Of the people who have registered, 3,64,209 have returned under this Mission as of today, he said.
Repatriations from neighbouring countries have also been happening through land borders, he added. "More than 84,000 Indians have returned through land border immigration checkpoints from Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh," the MEA spokesperson said.
"In the first three phases of the Vande Bharat Mission, around 875 international flights were scheduled for operation from over 50 countries across five continents. So far, more than 700 of these flights have reached India, repatriating around 1,50,000 Indians," Srivastava said. The remaining 175 flights under the Phase 3 are expected to reach in the coming days, he said.
These Vande Bharat Mission (VBM) flights have been instrumental in addressing the immediate requirements of stranded Indians from many parts of the world, Srivastava said. "We are committed to bringing back our remaining compatriots particularly in the GCC countries, Malaysia, Singapore among other places. In order to continue with our efforts, Phase IV of VBM is being firmed up with effect from July 3, 2020," he said.
"Phase IV will particularly focus on countries where we still have a large number of Indians who have registered to return," Srivastava said. Apart from these, chartered flight operations which commenced on May 26, have steadily increased over the past weeks, he said.
These flights have also brought back seafarers and crews of shipping companies stranded in various places, Srivastava said. "Till date, 1,30,061 persons have returned on these flights. Demand for these flights remains very high especially in the Gulf region. Therefore, we are moving to further streamline the process," Srivastava said.
Noting that repatriations through naval ships have also been part of this mission, he said one such repatriation is presently underway. INS Jalashwa reached Port of Bandar Abbas in Iran on June 24 to bring back Indian citizens and their embarkation was to commence on Thursday, Srivastava said.
Asked about Kerala government's suggestion that COVID-19 testing of those returning on Vande Bharat flights be done, Srivastava said after consulting Indian missions in the Gulf countries, the MEA told the state government that there are practical difficulties in this regard. "At present only UAE has arrangements for full testing, Qatar provides for limited testing and in other countries in the region prior testing is not possible as there are issues related to cost, time and availability of testing," he said.