The government of India has added 141 more flights to West Asian countries for the second phase of Vande Bharat Mission, its massive repatriation programme for citizens stranded overseas because of Covid-19-related travel restrictions.
The second phase was to end on May 22. However, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said the ongoing phase will last till June 13 and that India is looking at making Frankfurt a hub for the mission.
With these new flights, more than half of them to the United Arab Emirates, the total number of flights in the second phase of the programme have gone up to more than 400, people familiar with developments said on condition of anonymity.
The flights were added due to increased demand from citizens stranded in West Asian countries and the availability of adequate quarantine facilities in states for the returning Indians, the people said. As with all the flights operated so far under Vande Bharat Mission, priority will be given in the second phase to Indian nationals with compelling reasons for returning to the country, they added.
The additional flights are from the UAE (81 flights), Oman and Saudi Arabia (15 flights each), Kuwait (14 flights), Qatar (11 flights) and Bahrain (five flights).
A majority of the flights are bound for Kerala (84 flights), while the other destinations are Delhi (10 flights), Tamil Nadu (nine flights), Telangana (six flights) Gujarat and Jammu and Kashmir (five flights each), Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh (four flights each), Punjab (three flights), Odisha and West Bengal (two flights each), Chandigarh, Karnataka and Goa (one flight each).
The other 260-odd flights being operated during the second phase of Vande Bharat Mission are from Armenia, Australia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Indonesia, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Mauritius, Myanmar, Nepal, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Oman, the Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Tajikistan, the UK, Ukraine and the US.
The second phase of the repatriation programme began on May 16 and will continue till June 13, with all the flights being operated by state-run Air India and its subsidiary Air India Express. Private airlines are likely to be included in the third phase.
As of Thursday, a total of 23,475 Indians have been repatriated under Vande Bharat Mission. The second phase had included new destinations such as Istanbul, Ho Chi Minh City and Lagos, and had increased flights to the US and Europe.
More than 259,000 Indians in 98 countries across the world have registered to return under Vande Bharat Mission. Most of them are workers (28%), students (25%), professionals (14.5%), and short-term visa holders such as tourists (7.6%). Fishermen, deportees and Indian nationals who benefited from visa amnesties have also registered.
‘Vande Bharat’: 84 of 141 new repatriation flights for Kerala; only 1 for Karnataka