Stuck in India

BySashikala VP

Mar 21, 2020

Many foreign nationals are stranded in India. Either travel to their countries is banned by the government or airlines are cancelling flights

NYUGEN THI HUE, a Vietnamese citizen, had made her way to India on March 10 to attend a wedding, with her return flight booked for the 16th.

She was informed on the 14th that her flight from Kolkata had been cancelled, with no further information. “It ruined my plans for the rest couple of days as all I could do was try to get myself on a flight back home. I wanted to get a direct flight from Kolkata, as more stopovers meant putting myself to more risk”.

Hue had earlier flown from Guwahati, Assam, where she had attended her colleague’s wedding, to Kolkata. “I could not find any direct flight as they were all cancelled. I would either have to first go to Bangkok or Malaysia, so finally that’s what I had to did. My parents found me a flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and then to Ho Chin Minh city on the 17th.”

But she was still anxious, wondering if she would be able to leave Malaysia. “When I arrived in Kolkata, I saw the news which said Malaysia would shut down on the 18th, so that’s like half a day for me. I was very worried that I would be stuck there.”

That didn’t happen and she was able to return to Vietnam. “Before boarding at Kuala Lumpur, I was given a form to fill out about my travel details; which country I had been to, what I did, my health situation, if I had a cough, temperature, things like that. When I arrived at Ho Chi Minh, they did a health check. As I was okay, the authorities asked me to self-quarantine for 14 days at home. So now I’m at home and can’t go anywhere”, she tells us over the phone.

“My co-worker who was getting married invited the whole company but only I could go. I was there for a few days and then I travelled inside Assam for a bit. I had a good trip. I had planned to visit many other places but because of this I had to just sit and figure out what I needed to
be doing.”

Being an event manager for an outdoor training company, the pandemic means she is anyway unable to go to work, with the operations shut for at least three months.

Covid-19 has affected the aviation sector massively. India’s low-cost carrier Indigo has cancelled several flights. Such is the current situation that its head of communications, Sakshi Batra says that sharing the number of flights cancelled would not be feasible as “Our numbers keep changing”.

While the aviation sector is losing money, cancellations are much worse for travellers. Most of them are thrown into panic, especially tourists like Hue eager to return home, who are now stranded.

One reason is travel restrictions on entry of citizens of various countries. Another is cancellation of flights due to low passenger load.

Indigo experienced modest impact from the Coronavirus in January-February. In March, the cancellation spree started spreading like a virus.

FOREIGNERS GROUNDED

Patriot called various embassies to find out the plight of its stranded citizens. The most interesting response was from the Chinese embassy. We called the press division where we were told they were doing everything for its citizens here in India to return home and that it was the Indian government who were making “us prisoners”. When asked to elaborate, we were told “ask your government” before the phone was slammed down.

Iran’s embassy in India says many of its citizens were stuck in India owing to the cancellations of flights. The country was able to facilitate evacuation of its citizens on March 18.

A statement on the 14th said that many of its citizens were forced to stop in various cities in India due to cancellations. Iranian officials maintained that they hoped special permits would soon be issued and special flights which would transport its citizens from India to Iran.

We contacted embassies of several countries but were not given much information on the situation of its citizens here in India.

The consular sector of the High Commission of Malaysia did say that none of its citizens had been impacted by restrictions or travel ban. People like Hue looked for information themselves and worked out a solution.

The Swedish embassy said no citizens were stuck in the country, with senior press advisor Saloni Zaveri-Ahluwalia saying that those who needed to leave managed to do so without their help.

Spokesperson of Israel embassy Avigail Spira said they did not have accurate numbers of people stuck. “There are still meant to be two flights a week via Air India and there are other options for flying back. So those who wish to go home are likely to be able to sooner or later.”

The Swiss are lucky as Air India has cancelled several flights between March 16 and April 30 to destinations like Kathmandu, Dubai, Dammam, Riyadh, Jeddah, Doha and Muscat from cities like New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. Flights to Madrid, Paris, Frankfurt, Tel Aviv, Rome, Milan, Incheon, Kuwait and Colombo from New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata had already been cancelled by Air India until April 30. Some of the domestic sector flights of the national carrier have also been cancelled.

Indigo canceled its flights to Doha and has in a statement on March 5 said that owing to the suspension of visas for all foreigners with exception of diplomatic passport holders, “IndiGo will be cancelling some of its flights to Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi w.e.f. March 17, 2020 until the travel restrictions are lifted.”

With input from Shaunak Ghosh