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India mum on Indians, UAE edgy

The Indian reluctance to bring back its own citizens is fuelled by the fear that arrivals from abroad might aggravate the spread of the virus
“Stay where you are…. People in other countries cannot be brought back right now,” Chief Justice S.A. Bobde observed.

Anita Joshua   |   New Delhi   |   Published 13.04.20, 10:10 PM

India has publicly maintained a studied silence on an offer from the United Arab Emirates to fly home Indians stranded in the Gulf country because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Indian circumspection, regardless of demands from Indian expatriates to be allowed to return home, comes at a time the UAE has begun considering a review of labour relations with countries that are not responding to their nationals’ evacuation requests.

The Indian reluctance to bring back its own citizens is fuelled by the fear that arrivals from abroad might aggravate the spread of the virus and also by the necessity to quarantine them when the facilities are already stretched thin.

The Emirates News Agency (WAM) — the official news agency of the Gulf country — on Sunday reported that the ministry of human resources and Emiratisation had announced it was studying the measures to take relating to current labour relations with some of the partner countries.

The UAE ministry has made it clear it was referring to partner countries that are refusing to cooperate with evacuation measures undertaken by the emirates to repatriate private-sector expats who wish to return home because of the pandemic.

The measures include the halting of any memoranda of understanding between the ministry and the authorities of non-cooperative countries, as well as the introduction of restrictions or quotas for future recruitment.

No country was named in the report but Indians constitute the largest chunk of expatriates in the UAE. Over 27 per cent of all expats in the UAE are from India, way ahead of the second largest grouping, from Pakistan, which constitutes 12 per cent.

Asked how New Delhi planned to respond to the UAE’s efforts to push countries towards the evacuation of their nationals, sources in the Indian government said the external affairs ministry was trying to ascertain the veracity of the reports.

The UAE has offered to fly home Indians and people from other countries who wish to be repatriated if they test negative for Covid-19 but India’s general advisory to all nationals overseas has been to stay put where they are.

The UAE’s foreign ministry had sent out notes verbales to all its missions with the offer but New Delhi has apparently indicated that such an evacuation is not possible before May, given that the lockdown is likely to be extended for another fortnight.

Apart from those employed in the UAE, there are many who got stuck while visiting the country because of the lockdown and the closure of airports. Given the numbers, mass repatriation from the UAE is not something India is in a position to handle as all of them will have to be quarantined.

Some of those who want to return are people on expiring visas but junior external affairs minister V. Muraleedharan has sought to allay the fears of Indian workers in the Gulf by underlining that many of these countries had relaxed their visa rules and waived the fines for those overstaying because of the pandemic.

The Kerala government on Monday requested Prime Minister Narendra Modi to arrange special flights to the Gulf to bring back non-resident Keralites stranded there.

Vijayan said many Keralites who had gone on visit visas and in search of employment were finding it difficult to continue there without jobs.

On Monday, the Indian Supreme Court said it would be better if Indians stranded in various countries “stayed” where they were until the country overcame the Covid-19 crisis.

Several petitions had sought the government’s intervention to repatriate the Indians stranded in different parts of the world.

“Stay where you are…. People in other countries cannot be brought back right now,” Chief Justice S.A. Bobde observed.

The court asked the Centre to file an affidavit on the steps being taken to mitigate the hardships faced by Indians abroad. The hearing has been adjourned for four weeks.

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