The Government of India has facilitated the return of Indian citizens stranded in other countries by sending repatriation flights abroad. Foreign nationals, NRIs and visa holders stranded in India have been able to book tickets on these fights on their outbound legs to return to their home countries.
However, foreign nationals stranded in the Northeast feel that the government has been indifferent to their plight.
Most of these repatriation flights by India and other nations focused on west, south and north of India, leaving those in the east, especially in the northeastern states helpless during these tough times.
Several Americans, Canadians, Australians and other nationals including NRIs and work visa holders, have been stranded in the northeastern states since the entire country was put under a complete lockdown on March 24 because of COVID-19, and the wait to return to their homes and their jobs abroad seems never ending.
The mainstream media even during normal circumstances does not cover news from the northeast and none so far have mentioned about those stranded in this corner of the country.
Some have had to travel for days (more than 50 hours) by road to reach Delhi to get on to the repatriation flights arranged by their countries, while others with family, small children and health problems couldn’t consider the long hours on the road.
“One flight from Guwahati to Delhi for all of us irrespective of which country we belong to and irrespective of our current locations will be enough to evacuate us from the northeast,” said Devaz, from Canada currently stuck in Manipur
Others stranded in Manipur have also mentioned that, even though it’ll take them around 13 hours to drive from Imphal city to Guwahati, they agree to reach in time for the evacuation flight if the government agrees on arranging one.
“If the government is not providing help because our numbers are small, there are others stuck in Kolkata, Siliguri and also in Sikkim so if a connecting flight is arranged from Guwahati-Kolkata-Delhi, I believe the fight will be full,” said an Australian citizen stranded in Shillong who did not want to be identified.
Anup, from the United States currently stranded in Sikkim added, “When other nations began their repatriation efforts in India, there were no efforts put forward by the Indian Government. in this part of India to facilitate easy transfer of passengers to the airport (for e.g. e-passes and safe passage letters took their own sweet time or were denied).”
Without any help so far and crossing 50 days since the lockdown began, the stresses and problems are only getting worse.
For one, their jobs are at stake. Some have already lost their jobs or had pay-cuts due to their long stay outside the country. For those who have lost their jobs, they are missing the opportunity to apply for another job to be able to pay their bills.
Their work-visas are also expiring and without a re-entry visa, they fear that their future they worked so hard for will be left uncertain.
Legal permanent residents are also worried about exceeding their time limit of staying abroad and losing their status. Making things worse, leases for their cars and houses are ending. They are also apprehensive they are at risk of thefts at the homes as well as maintenance issues arising out of weather damages because of the extended period of stay.
Many are missing their medical appointments, putting them at health risk. Most painful of all, their children are unable to attend online classes arranged by their schools abroad due to the time difference. It is hard to keep them awake at night in IST to be able to attend their classes.
Over and above all these, long stays in hotels is putting a big hole in their pockets.
The writer is a medical doctor by profession and co-founder of R &V Art house LLC