RIYADH: The repatriation of Indians from Saudi Arabia has gathered pace,
The Indian Embassy began its repatriation mission on Friday, sending back citizens who had been stranded in the Kingdom due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The first flight from Saudi Arabia for the evacuation of Indian nationals departed from King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh,” the embassy said.
The flight was headed to Kozhikode, in Kerala. It carried 152 passengers, including four infants. The passengers mainly consisted of stranded workers and medical cases, including pregnant women. All passengers were screened for COVID-19 prior to boarding.
The next scheduled flight is from Riyadh to New Delhi on May 10, followed by a flight from Dammam to Kochi on May 12. There are two flights from Jeddah to destinations in Kerala later in the week.
Indian Ambassador Dr. Ausaf Sayeed said that flights to additional destinations in India were being explored. The embassy and consulate prepared the manifests of repatriation flights based on the database for online registration that was launched on April 29.
“We have prioritized individuals on the basis of exigencies, such as distressed workers, urgent medical cases, pregnant women, stranded Umrah pilgrims, among others,” the ambassador said.
The embassy and the consulate received about 60,000 registrations from the Indian community.
The repatriation process would take time, he said, and they were targeting 1,000 Indians in this first phase.
Pakistani missions in Saudi Arabia have also started repatriating stranded nationals, with the first two flights taking off from Riyadh and Jeddah on May 1.
The British Embassy has been helping its nationals in Saudi Arabia who urgently needed to return to the UK. “Our ninth flight for British nationals and residents in the Kingdom has departed from Riyadh. We thank Saudi Arabian Airlines and the Saudi government for helping Brits get home to their families,” UK Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Neil Crompton tweeted.
Priority was given to Britons visiting Saudi Arabia on short-stay visas, those most at risk from COVID-19, NHS workers and those based far away from airports who might struggle to access future flights.