India said on Thursday consultations were on to finalise plans for repatriating citizens stranded around the world even as missions in different countries were arranging essential supplies and looking after the needs of such people.
“The matter is receiving the attention of the government. It would be premature for me to spell out the plans for their return at this stage,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Anurag Srivastava told a virtual news briefing.
Though Srivastava said he didn’t have details regarding the number of Indians stranded around the world or expatriate workers wishing to return to the country, people familiar with developments have said the number is expected to run into hundreds of thousands.
Noting that the country has been under lockdown since March 25 and all commercial flights had been suspended, Srivastava said: “In this situation, there are Indians all over the world who have gone to various parts as students, there are deportees or they’ve finished their projects and they wish to return.
“We understand that they are naturally inconvenienced and we appreciate their predicament…Consultations are on and discussions are underway [for their return].”
Indian missions around the world are taking care of the stranded citizens by arranging food and shelter and addressing issues arising from their unplanned stay abroad, such as the expiry of visas, he added.
Officials have already said the repatriation of Indian citizens is expected to begin once the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown eases after May 3. The exercise is expected to involve Air India, the air force and the navy.
The Air force is expected to use some of its largest transport aircraft, such as C-130s and C-17s, for evacuation flights while the navy has kept three large warships on standby to bring back thousands of Indians from West Asian countries.
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on Wednesday that more than 56,000 people from his state had registered to return after losing their jobs in foreign countries.
The external affairs ministry and Indian missions are expected to begin registering Indians who want to return in the coming days, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.
Secretaries responsible for various geographical regions in the external affairs ministry have held a series of meetings via video conference with groups of ambassadors based in Delhi during which the repatriation of Indian citizens and their welfare figured in the discussions.