Indian missions in the UAE are awaiting orders from New Delhi to begin the online registration process of Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) who wish to return home amid the unprecedented situation caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaking with Khaleej Times, Indian Consul-General to Dubai, Vipul, said the mission will facilitate an online registration process once they get the go-ahead from Delhi. "We are awaiting final clarifications from Delhi on this issue."

This comes as millions of Indian expats across the world await their home country's decision on when and how to repatriate what could well be the biggest repatriation exercise in history.

Indian news agency ANI on Tuesday quoted a top government official and said the government is  "assessing the scenario and finding the plan to evacuate Indians from the Gulf countries. "We have asked Air India and Indian Navy for the detailed evacuation plan," ANI reported.

Other diplomatic sources said the central government is in the 'planning process' and as soon as foreign missions receive instructions on what kind of data they are looking for, registrations will begin accordingly on a priority basis.

In its detailed evacuation plan submitted to the government, the Indian Navy has outlined that it "can evacuate 1,500 Indians from the Gulf countries in three warships of the Navy".

Vipul said they are still waiting for official confirmation from Delhi on this matter. "The mode of evacuation will be decided by the government of India and I am sure that Air India will be involved as well," he told Khaleej Times.

Blue-collar workers to get first priority

As the clamour for evacuation rises from stranded Indians in the Gulf countries, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that blue-collar workers, among the hardest hit by the global pandemic, will get the first seats  in special repatriation flights. Students stranded in foreign countries will be next, followed by professionals who were travelling for work.

"The Prime Minister was very clear. That the Indian expatriate workforce should get the first choice to return," a top government official was quoted by Hindustan Times.

Amid the coronavirus scare, thousands of Indians have expressed their willingness to return to India from the Gulf countries, but have been unable to do so given to suspension of flights and other modes of travel.

India has suspended all kinds of travel till May 3 as the country continues to be under a coronavirus-induced lockdown.

The logistical challenge

Indian missions will be asked to compile a list of those wishing to return, and repatriation will have to be coordinated with respective states. "It will be a complicated exercise. Indian missions abroad will compile a list of people who want to return to India, prioritise them and then coordinate with the states concerned," the unnamed government official said.

"When they eventually land in India, everyone would have to be screened to figure if the person should be sent to a quarantine centre or straight to the hospital," the official said.

The foreign ministry will have to set up a dedicated control room for this mammoth exercise, he added.

Government sources also stressed that "many Indians have contacted the embassies through social media and emails, showing a willingness to return to their homes. The government is doing all possible planning and making arrangements of their evacuation from their destinations."

"Around 10 million Indians are in Gulf countries and many of them are living in port cities, and that is why the government has also asked Indian Navy to give a detailed plan for evacuation through sea routes," sources said.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has already started consultations with the states and union territories (UT) for the necessary arrangements starting the process.

"We have started our consultation with the governments of states/UTs for the necessary arrangements. Similarly, all missions are also told to make a detailed report for those who have shown their willingness to return back to India and provide full assistance to them," MEA sources told ANI.

According to sources, senior officials from the Ministry of Civil Aviation had given brief note before a Group of Ministers that, "India has over 500 aircraft and the Indian aviation is capable of the evacuation of Indians from the Gulf nations."

As reported by Khaleej Times, community groups in the UAE had expressed concerns about the swelling number of people wanting to go back. During a virtual meeting with chief ministers on Monday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not announce any specific repatriation plans for Indians stranded abroad.

Norka Roots, the Kerala government's welfare body for non-resident Keralites, had on Sunday launched a website to accept registrations for Malayalis wishing to return home. A staggering 150,000 people registered on the website within hours, indicating the number of people who wish to go back amid the pandemic.

With inputs from ANI

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