Kochi/Mumbai, April 2: Over 350 Indians were safely airlifted from strife-torn Yemen, but the returnees on Thursday were apprehensive about their future and hoped they would land jobs.
India sent its biggest plane, the C-17 (Globemaster), to evacuate its nationals, 190 of whom landed in Mumbai on Thursday while another 168 went to Kochi in Kerala.
Fighting has been going on in Yemen since January 22 when the government under President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was ousted by Shia Houthi forces. This has provoked the recent military campaign by a coalition of 10 countries led by Saudi Arabia.
India has initiated a highly coordinated operation to evacuate its nationals and around 350 people stranded in Yemen’s port city of Aden were brought out by Indian Navy Ship INS Sumitra.
The returnees were happy to be back home, but were concerned about their future.
“We are really happy to be with our near and dear ones,” said a nurse who was elated over her safe return in Kochi.
“The bigger question is what will happen to our future… We want a job, but do not know where it will come from, as we have families to look after,” said the nurse.
The number of Indian nationals in Yemen, which was estimated around 14,000 in 2010, declined to an estimated 5,000 by June 2011 following political instability and violence in the country. However, only around 3,000 Indians are registered with the embassy in Sana’a.
Most of the Indians living in Yemen comprise nurses, hospital staff, university professors, professionals, white collar workers, IT professionals and managerial and clerical staff in the private sector. A vast majority of them hail from Kerala but a few belong to other states like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Karnataka, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal.
Kerala’s Minister for Diaspora K.C. Joseph told IANS that they are in constant touch with the ministry of external affairs in Delhi and with the Indian officials in Yemen and Djibouti.
“Diplomatic efforts managed to break ice with Saudi Arabian authorities to clear the way for a free air zone to ensure our flights land in Yemen and then return through their air space.
“But talks with Iranian authorities are on as their permission is also required. There are another 2,500 Keralites including nurses and teachers,” said Joseph.
The Kerala government has given a token amount of Rs.2,000 to each of them.
Recalling the horror, a returnee said: “The situation in Yemen is getting worse day by day as there are frequent bombings. Bombs were dropped around 200 metres from where I stayed. The most affected are the children.”
Another returnee said: “Communications are also breaking down and then it becomes tough for Indian Embassy officials to get in touch with Indians.”
Joseph said the state government will press the central government to ensure that diplomatic talks are held to ensure the return of Indians.
“Another tough ask is that nobody knows how many Keralites are there in Yemen. But the Kerala government will do its best to see how best we can help the nurses,” Joseph said.
He said his government will look into providing jobs to the nurses who have returned.
“There are practical difficulties to find jobs for around 2,000 nurses, but our government will do everything possible,” said Joseph.
India has also agreed to requests from neighbours Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to assist in evacuation of their nationals from Yemen.