The United States is preparing to evacuate more than 2500 American nationals from India.
Other than a large number of diplomats and officials, many other US citizens are also in India who are engaged in a variety of activities in different parts of the country.
The US has its Embassy in New Delhi and four consulates in Mumbai, Chennai Kolkata and Hyderabad. But there are also US citizens who live in other Indian cities beyond these four centres and the capital.
This is neither a panic reaction to any particular development in the country nor a comment on the government’s handling of the situation. It is a global exercise that the US State department has undertaken.
American citizens from different parts of the world, including Europe, are being brought back to the US. Moreover, it is not mandatory but voluntary. Only those who want to leave are being included in the list of evacuees. While others who have opted to stay are being allowed to do so.
Some other countries have also approached the government for helping them in evacuating their nationals from India. They include, Afghanistan, Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Israel, Germany, France, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Malaysia and Peru.
US Embassy Spokesperson Ariel H. Pollock said. “The safety and security of US citizens in India is our top priority.” She added, “The US Mission to India continues to work with the US Department of State and airline companies to arrange flights from India to the United States for US citizens.”
Pollock pointed out that once these flights are arranged, “we will work with the Indian government to arrange the greatest possible safe passage to airports for US citizens,” she added in her statement.
According to US officials about 1500 American citizens in Delhi, 700 in Mumbai and adjoining areas and 400 from other parts of the country have expressed their desire to leave India for the US.
Details of the US evacuation plan are not yet known but special flights might be used to airlift the diplomats, officials and other stranded citizens from the different cities and the capital. Though all other options could also be explored to bring all of them to one place.
“We are working with multiplicity of options here” say US officials. A Church group has chartered a large aircraft and are taking out 150 stranded people. They are now waiting for the necessary permits for the aircraft.
US Administration is also in touch with both American and foreign carriers “to lay on aircraft direct from India to the United States,” officials said.
But getting permits for aircrafts to come in and leave India at a time of a lock-down is proving to be a difficult area. “The permitting is what’s complicated at the moment. We’re are ready to act on this, but it’s the permitting that takes a while both in India and in the United States”, American officials said.
However, they are hopeful that in the next few days—perhaps three or more—the flights will begin.
Many foreign missions in India had already sent back family members of their diplomats’ home and pruned the work force at the outset of the lockdown. But many more want to leave. “This is not to suggest things are safer in their respective countries. In fact, the way things are panning out they look far worse than what the situation in India is,” says a western official. However, if an individual wants to leave under these trying times the government can hardly ignore such a plea.
Mainly it is the fear of being caught in a lockdown in a place far away from home that is making people nervous and wanting them to return home. This is trend is now increasing, especially, as there is no guarantee how long the current phase would last.
“It is an open-ended situation. You want to be in a familiar place rather than being caught somewhere where you have come to work or for a visit,” a European diplomat said.
But as the offer to repatriate extends to all citizens it becomes a bigger challenge. While the bulk of them are concentrated in big cities, many are also in smaller towns and in remote places. Getting them to the nearest big city with international flight facilities is a huge task as public transport has also been suspended.
For bigger countries like the US, which has more resources than most, the evacuation plan might prove to be relatively easier. But for many others, the option has been to pool resources and embark on a collective drive. Interestingly, many of the bigger countries have voluntarily offered help to ensure those who want to leave can do so with least trouble.