New Delhi [India], March 15 (ANI): External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Monday said that over 45.82 lakh people from 98 countries have returned to India under the aegis of the Vande Bharat Mission.
Making statements in both Houses of Parliament pertaining to the welfare abroad of Indians, NRIs and PIOs, he said the welfare of students studying abroad has been the particular reason of concern for the government amid the coronavirus pandemic.
He said the Narendra Modi government has been "deeply committed to the welfare and protection of Indians abroad" from the beginning of the crisis created by COVID-19.
He said Vande Bharat Mission to bring back countrymen and women home was carried out on the directions of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"A total of 45,82,043 people from 98 countries have returned to India under the aegis of the Vande Bharat Mission. The vast majority came through flights, though there were also some who came by ship and across land crossings. Kerala received the maximum returnees, followed by Delhi, Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. UAE was the country from where the maximum number of stranded Indians returned, followed by Saudi Arabia, USA and Qatar. Thirty-nine per cent of the returnees were workers, 39 per cent were professionals, 6 per cent students, 8 per cent visitors and 4.7 per cent stranded tourists," he said.
"While organizing the return home, the Government also focused on ensuring that our people were provided the necessary amenities in foreign countries," he added.
The minister said the largest repatriation exercise in the history of the world could not have happened without the goodwill and cooperation of partner governments.
He said the government also facilitated the return from India of more than 1.1 lakh foreign passport holders to 120 countries and many of them were PIOs and NRIs.
Jaishankar said that the focus of government efforts in the last few months has now shifted to Indians going back to their usual places of work, study and domicile and air transport bubbles, that are temporary reciprocal arrangements for commercial passenger services until the resumption of regular international flights, have been concluded.
"Such arrangements have been concluded with 27 nations so far. The Air India group alone has operated more than 9500 flights, taking 10.9 lakh passengers abroad. The largest numbers, not surprisingly, have gone to the Gulf. During the pandemic, our Prime Minister had declared that the Government would take care of both lives and livelihood. This guidance has been the basis for the activities of our diplomacy abroad."
He said just as the Government has led the way for economic recovery at home, it is also similarly untiring in our efforts "to help renew livelihoods of our people abroad".
"The air travel arrangements are a necessary enabling measure. But beyond that, we have been active in urging our partner governments to look sympathetically at the employment of our citizens as they chart their own recovery pathway. The Gulf has been the focal point of our endeavours, though this is a global effort on our part. In recent months, the Prime Minister has engaged the leaders of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Oman.
"Under his directions, I have travelled even during the COVID period to UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman to discuss with the governments there the welfare of our people."
Jaishankar said that the government is fully cognizant of the employment concerns that our people abroad have in the context of the COVID pandemic.
"Especially in the Gulf, there has been tremendous economic and social disruption that has impacted them. We have softened it somewhat but real challenges are there to be addressed. Let me assure the House that we take this as a priority," he said
"We have been in regular touch with most community organizations and get their feedback on both the health situation and the economic recovery. We are aware that there are problems of compensation, re-employment and re-skilling that need solutions. And these are today the core of our agenda with our partner governments," he added.
Jaishankar said the provision of medical supplies and food items from India as an exceptional gesture to the Gulf during this period clearly had a powerful resonance.
"So did the arrival of health professionals and medical staff, especially the dedicated medical team we sent to Kuwait. From our recent interactions, we have reason to expect that partner governments in the Gulf would be helpful in facilitating the early return of many who were compelled to go back because of the pandemic," he said.
"The welfare of students studying abroad has also been of particular concern for all of us. Across the world, our embassies have been given instructions to reach out to them, monitor their situation and assist their return, where required. As with workers and professionals, the focus has now shifted to their going back to universities," he added.
He said seafarers have been another category requiring particular attention and the government has been working with shipping companies across the world to ensure their well-being and where required, return to India. (ANI)