* Second flight leaves for Thiruvananthapuram on Sunday
* Hoping for 4-5 flights in next stage: envoy
* More destinations in India to be covered
A total of 178 Indians left Doha for Kochi, in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Saturday evening aboard the first repatriation flight from Qatar.
This is part of the Indian government's Vande Bharat mission to take Indians stranded around the world due to Covid-19 restrictions back home. Under this plan, two special flights are being operated from Qatar this week, with the second one scheduled to leave for
Indian ambassador P Kumaran, officials from the embassy and several Indian community leaders were present at Hamad International Airport (HIA) on Saturday to see off the first batch of passengers.
The 178 passengers were shortlisted from about 44,000 community members who had registered with the Indian embassy to avail of the facility.
“It took several days of work to identify the most deserving passengers. The passengers on this flight are mostly pregnant women and people who need medical attention, among others. It needed several days of co-ordination between the Indian Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian embassy. The Indian ministries of Health, Home Affairs and Civil Aviation are also involved in the process,” ambassador Kumaran, who present at HIA on Saturday, told the media.
The envoy also expressed gratitude to the Qatari government, the Qatar Civil Aviation Authority as well as the HIA authorities for the support provided to the entire process.
“Once we figure out the logistics of the operation, we will be able to organise more flights at greater frequencies to several other places in India. This week, we have two flights to Kerala and hopefully we are planning to have more flights to more destinations in India from next week,” explained Kumaran, adding that they are hoping to have "4-5 flights" in the next stage of the repatriation mission from Qatar.
“I think starting from May 15, we are looking forward to more flights to other parts of India. About 44,000 have registered with embassy for travelling to India. We decide the passengers on priority basis. There are many housemaids and most of them are from Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. Once we have flights to this region, they will be taken care of," he said.
"There are about 200 deportation cases and 70 amnesty and pardon cases and all of them will be sent home on the available flights in the coming weeks,” he added.
Of the 178 passengers who travelled on board flight IX 476 (operated by Air India Express), six were infants, the embassy tweeted. "Thanks to the Qatari Ministry of Interior, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Civil Aviation Authority, Hamad International Airport and the Air India team in Doha for all the support," it added. "We are asking for mote flights to other states in India in the coming days. Please follow us closely for updates."
Indian Cultural Centre president Manikantan A P said the passengers have been given all the guidelines and safety instructions well in advance. “After several days of hectic efforts, we made arrangements for the first flight to take off from Doha. We have requested all the passengers to follow the guidelines and instructions strictly so that everybody reaches their destination safely. Once they reach Kochi International Airport, they have to follow the instructions given by the government and undergo mandatory quarantine,” he added.
The embassy recently said it had resumed collection of data about people requesting repatriation to India due to the “continuing demand for registration”.
Those seeking repatriation have to fill a form, which is available at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLScYgQkLLvA0GvHh5dm_QEDSzqI6S8TuYGJ49JsByTnOlZ6EcA/viewform
“The form is to be filled for a single individual at a time,” the embassy stressed.
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