Covid-19: MEA reaches out to Indians abroad, Cong says help students

In the absence of international flight operations and owing to the ongoing nationwide lockdown in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the ministry of external affairs has stepped up the process of reaching out to people of Indian origin abroad through high commissions and embassies, said an official aware of the details.

The ministry gets hundreds of phone calls, emails and messages on social media platforms from people seeking help in flying back as well as for aid in visa renewals.

Minister of state for external affairs V Muraleedharan said on Sunday apart from the helplines that are operational, he has also started answering phone calls from Indian nationals who call on dial-in programmes on Malayalam television channels.

“In the last few days I was part of at least four such programmes where I answered calls from people based in the Middle East, United Kingdom and other countries. These were on Malayalam channels, since a large number of people from Kerala are in countries around the world,” he told HT.

Even as the Congress has criticised the ministry for failing to bring back Indians stuck abroad, especially students, the minister said high commissions and embassies are taking care of students whose universities and colleges are shut.

“In the United Kingdom for instance, we are providing food at subsidised rates for students, who could not take the flight back home. Temporary arrangements have also been made for their accommodation. Helplines are being run across many countries and our missions are taking all the steps required to help people,” he said.

Citing examples, he said the mission in Dubai was able to reach out in hours to an expectant woman who needed medicines and to a group of three people who needed quarantine facilities after a fourth person sharing space with them tested positive for Covid-19.

The minister said special arrangements have been made to help those whose visas are expiring or have expired during the pandemic.

From March 20, the ministry has received as many as 7,100 calls from Dubai and Abu Dhabi; 450 from Jeddah, 700 from Riyadh, 920 from Oman, over 200 from Qatar.

Arrangements have also been made for Indian students in Bangladesh. These students are being put up in Dhaka, where their food and other necessities are being looked after, said a person aware of the details.

But Congress spokesperson Jaiveer Shergill alleged that while the BJP government is in “active mode” for foreign nationals, it is in “sleep mode” for the Indian students stranded abroad.

As per the external affairs ministry, he said, over 20,000 foreign nationals have been evacuated to different parts of the world by India while there over 200,000 Indian students stranded in the United States, 300 at Heathrow airport, 16.000 in Philippines besides hundreds of others in Australia, Canada and Malaysia.

“When the India government can facilitate evacuation of 20,000 foreigners then why not adopt the same approach for stranded Indian students?” Shergill asked. He said the government should give a “definitive timeline” of their evacuation to the worried parents.

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