340 Vietnamese repatriated from India after long wait, arduous journeys

By Anh Ngoc    May 19, 2020 | 05:29 pm PT
340 Vietnamese repatriated from India after long wait, arduous journeys
A group of Vietnamese citizens gather at Bangalore Airport before flying to New Delhi in India, May 19 2020. Photo courtesy of Vietnamese Embassy in India.
340 Vietnamese nationals stuck in India for months in a complicated and difficult Covid-19 lockdown were brought home Wednesday on a special flight.

The flight, departing from the Indian capital of New Delhi, landed at the Can Tho International Airport in the Mekong Delta early in the morning. Passengers onboard include people in very difficult situations, stranded tourists, engineers, businessmen and nearly 200 monks and nuns who’d gone for retreats at Buddhist institutes in India.

All passengers are being quarantined in Can Tho and the nearby Tien Giang and Tra Vinh Provinces.

The green light from the Vietnamese government for carrying out the repatriation came last Thursday, Nguyen Sanh Chau, Vietnam's ambassador to India, Nepal and Bhutan, told VnExpress.

He said the launch of the repatriation flight at this time was extremely difficult as the country of 1.3 billion people with a large area and complex procedures had been placed under a nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the Covid-19 epidemic.

"However, we were determined to implement the plan," Chau said.

India, the second largest coronavirus hotspot in Asia with 100,000 cases and more than 3,000 deaths, has imposed a nationwide blockade set to last at least until May 31. Three domestic flights from the cities of Bangalore, Pune and Gaya were chartered to bring Vietnamese from different parts of India to New Delhi Thursday morning to board the repatriation flight.

Traveling by road to airports was also difficult because commercial vehicles are banned and private vehicles are required to have a license from the Indian Ministry of Internal Affairs. Each state has its own checkpoint, and people moving from a heavily-affected state could be forced to be quarantined or be banned from entering another state.

Some Vietnamese citizens from the city of Varanasi in the state of Uttar Pradesh traveled more than 1,000 km to New Delhi on bad roads in hot weather conditions with no street side food shops open.

Among those repatriated on the flight were four foreigners. One of them is an Indian businessman who owns a textile factory in the northern province of Nam Dinh. He returned to Vietnam to pay wages for 700 workers.

Vietnam has suspended entry for foreign nationals since March 22. Only those with diplomatic or official passports, or coming for special economic projects, are allowed to enter the country under strict medical surveillance.

"Around 340 people from different locations in 15 states traveled in 66 cars to reach three local airports and then flew to New Delhi to begin the journey home," Chau said.

The final flight, between New Delhi and Can Tho, took four hours and 30 minutes.

In the last few months, several special flights have repatriated thousands of Vietnamese from several countries and territories including Canada, France, Japan, Russia, the UAE and the U.S., and other Southeast Asian countries. Passengers paid their own fares.

Civil aviation authorities have said another 4,000 or so Vietnamese citizens are to be repatriated by mid-June.

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