Over 230,000 Indians repatriated, 2,158 die during pandemic period – Ambassador

Over 230,000 Indians have been repatriated from Saudi Arabia during the coronavirus pandemic, according to Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

A total of 2,32,556 Indians returned home through 1295 special flights that operated to India following the suspension of regular flights between the two countries, said Dr. Ausaf Saeed,  India’s Ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, on Friday.

Addressing a press conference, the ambassador said that 1295 flights operated from Saudi Arabia that included 276 Vande Bharat Mission flights and remaining were charter flights for the repatriation.

The repatriation of deportees from jails and deportation centers after completing their sentences is different from the regular repatriation process, he said. So far, 2200 such people have been repatriated back home with the cooperation of the Department of Military Affairs for their quarantine facility upon arrival, he added.

Dr. Saeed revealed that India is working closely with Saudi Arabia to come to an air bubble agreement that could facilitate the return of stranded NRIs on Saudi Arabian visas from India to Saudi Arabia.

He emphasized that the travel ban on India by Saudi Arabia required to be reviewed as COVID-19 cases per capita in India is much less compared with its population and preventive measures.

Dr. Saeed said that so far 2158 Indians have died in Saudi Arabia during the pandemic period, including 850 with COVID-19.

Welcoming proposed Saudi labor reforms, the ambassador hoped that labor disputes would drop to some extent. Fresh recruitment from India is being linked through an e-migrate scheme that ensures contractual obligations between employees and employers.

“Saudi Arabia and India agreed to have proper contractual obligations during PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Saudi Arabia”, he said.

Dr. Saeed also said that both countries are working in the fields of higher education and health care. He revealed that the opening of campuses of IIT Delhi and the Indian School of Business of Hyderabad in Saudi Arabia is on the cards.

India is also working to establish an Indian Cultural Centre in Riyadh, he said. The ongoing virtual yoga classes would soon be converted into physical form by maintaining social distance norms, according to him.

Highlighting growing relations between the two countries, the ambassador said that joint working groups involving the trade, investment and industry sectors have been meeting regularly.

India and Saudi Arabia are both keen to strengthen bilateral cooperation in the health sector.

Dr. Saeed revealed that passport and consular services were expanding as ease of COVID-19 restriction. There are 82,270 passport-related services being provided in the country.

He said Indian missions are working to have permanent passport service centers in different parts of the Kingdom.

Regarding Haj, the ambassador said that India didn’t receive any formal information regarding modifications in view of the pandemic.