Bhopal: More than four lakh Keralites (4,42,238) stranded in 207 countries, ranging from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), a second home to many of them, to Niue, a small island nation in the South Pacific Ocean, and in other states of the country, have registered for evacuation following the lockdown.
Since the nationwide lockdown was announced in India on March 24, Keralites outside the state have registered themselves on the online portal NORKA (Non-Resident Keralite Affairs). Of these, 3,98,082 are non-resident Keralites (NRK) who are outside the country.
Responding to the distress among India’s huge diaspora, the government has asked national carrier Air India to provide aircraft to bring back Indians who want to return from the Middle East, Singapore, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The Indian Navy has also been asked to help by sending two ships to evacuate citizens from the Maldives, in the Indian Ocean.
With the Union government planning to rescue all stranded citizens, including in the six Gulf Cooperative Council (GCC) countries (UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman), the NORKA portal (www.registernorkaroots.org) has allowed non-resident Keralites to register themselves from the last week of April.
According to a seven-day flight plan released by the Union government, four of the ten flights that Air India will operate on Thursday will bring back people from Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Doha and all into the southern state of Kerala.
The first round of evacuations would bring back around 200,000 people by the middle of May and then by mid-June a total of 350,000-400,000 would be flown back, a foreign ministry official said.
“Priority will be given to workers in distress, elderly people, urgent medical cases, pregnant women, as well as to other people who are stranded in difficult situations,” the Indian consulate general in Dubai said.
The figures provided by NORKA reveal that of the Non-Resident Keralites (NRKs) who have registered themselves, over 80,000 are in the most important categories. While over 60,000 have lost their jobs, nearly 10,000 are pregnant women.
The maximum number in the 4,42,238 people who registered till Wednesday morning is from UAE with 1,96,039. Among the other Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia has 61,786, Qatar 47,487, Kuwait 28,389 and Oman 26,026 Keralites who wish to return.
The number of those who want to come back from the United Kingdom is just 2,727 while that from the United States is 2,673. The number of those from Russia is 1,396, while Australia, Canada, Germany and France is 1031, 789, 294 and 179 respectively.
There are at least 23 countries where only one person each has applied online. This includes Cook Islands, El Salvador, Vatican, Venezuela and Syria. Curiously, 44,155 Keralites from other Indian states have also registered with the portal.
According to the state government, NORKA had shared the details of the registrants with the Union Ministry of External Affairs as well as the embassies.
“This is easily the most comprehensive, complicated and challenging programme I have seen in my career,” said civil aviation minister Hardeep Puri.
Passengers will be screened at the departing airport and only those who are asymptomatic will be allowed to board. Once they land, they will be quarantined for two weeks, the government said.
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, whose state has large numbers of people working in the Gulf, voiced concerns over the risks of not testing people for the virus before bringing them home.
In the earlier phase of the coronavirus outbreak, India had operated several special flights to facilitate the evacuation of Indians stranded in various countries, including China, Italy and Iran.
However, once the cases started increasing rapidly in the country, the Centre announced a lockdown on March 24 and stopped all the international flights on March 22.
Source: News Agencies
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