The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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One-month-old heads home alone

Thiruvananthapuram/Mumbai, March 20: One-month-old Soumya is far away from her mother, but she is safe back in her motherland.

After two Iraqi missiles landed in Kuwait, her parents decided to send her with “strangers” all the way from Kuwait to Kochi, out of the way of the US war on Iraq.

Soumya’s parents resorted to the desperate measure after they failed to get tickets on the three chartered flights which evacuated Keralites from Kuwait since this morning.

They decided their “beloved” would be safer away from them in far-off Kerala than in the trouble-torn region. And they didn’t want her to wait till they could accompany her.

So they waited at the Kuwait airport and handed over the infant to a “lucky couple” who had bagged tickets for the flight.

Soumya reached safe shores this evening and into the embrace of her grand-uncle at the Nedumbassery airport.

Soumya was the youngest, though not the only child, to travel home to Kerala without parents. Nearly 100 children, including 32 infants, flew to Kochi from Kuwait without their parents today as panic gripped Kerala and Keralites living in West Asia.

The three flights today carried about 1,000 people, including almost 200 children. Keralites comprise more than 70 per cent of the 360,000 Indians living in Kuwait.

Speaking to The Telegraph on the phone, minister in-charge of non-resident Keralites M.M. Hassan said thousands from the state had applied for a berth on the Air-India chartered flights. He said there were fears that the Kuwait airport’s likely closure could make the evacuation difficult.

Three Kerala ministers, led by Hassan, will leave for New Delhi tomorrow to meet the Prime Minister and the external affairs minister to request faster evacuation.

The first two flights that landed today, both in Mumbai, carried 768 people. The third, that landed in the evening in Kochi and then flew to Mumbai, carried 240 passengers.

Another flight is expected in the evening, an Air-India official at the control cell set up in Mumbai said. All flights were delayed because of a technical snag and heavy traffic at the Kuwait airport.

According to the official, there is a huge rush at that airport, with Indians queuing up to flee the war.

Though Air-India announced these special flights from Kuwait — how many is unspecified — yesterday, it is yet to announce similar flights from other Gulf countries. The airline said it would do so if the situation demanded.

Most of the people who returned today said they would go back as soon as their employers recalled them.

Dharan Nayar Rajesh, employed with an oil refinery, said he would return the moment he got a call from his company.

Scientific officer Anita D’Souza, who has been in Kuwait for seven years, said: “I am not scared, but I had to come home because of my children.”

B.P. Rao, an Andhra Pradesh doctor employed with a refinery in Kuwait, said about 350 of the 1,400 Indians working with him in the company were being sent back.

Mohammed Fazal, a tour operator, said local people who were well off were moving to other neighbour countries.

An Air-India spokesman said the baggage of many passengers had to be abandoned after the conveyor belt at Kuwait broke down. Efforts were now on to bring back the baggage on subsequent flights, depending on the capacity.

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