Home/ News / India/  Coronavirus: Indians stranded in Iran await Operation Rescue

NEW DELHI : Pilgrims, fishermen and students are among hundreds of stranded Indians set to be evacuated from Iran, the third largest centre of novel coronavirus infections, starting Friday. They will be brought back in three flights from a country that has reported over 10,000 infections and 354 deaths, the civil aviation ministry said on Thursday.

There are over 6,000 Indian nationals spread across the provinces of the vast West Asian nation which has emerged as the third-most impacted country after China and Italy.

“We expect around 130-150 passengers who are our countrymen to be there. They shall be taking this Iran air flight and land tomorrow (Friday) at Mumbai airport," Rubina Ali, joint secretary in the ministry of civil aviation told reporters.

Three evacuations will be conducted back-to-back starting Friday, followed by flights on 15 March and possibly 16 or 17 March.

India suspended direct flights to Iran from 27 February as infections began to spike there, leaving 1,100 Shia pilgrims—mainly from Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir and Maharashtra—stranded in the country.

Apart from pilgrims, the 6,000 Indians in Iran include nearly 300 students, mostly studying medicine, 1,000 fishermen from Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Gujarat and 1,000 others who are on longer term visas for work or religious studies.

“The initial focus is on visiting pilgrims, many of whom are in Qom, where coronavirus incidence has been strong and students," foreign minister S. Jaishankar told the Lok Sabha.

The city of Qom is considered holy by Shia Muslims and is the world’s leading centre of Shia scholarship. Much like Wuhan in China, Qom has become the Iranian epicentre of the viral outbreak.

On the other hand, most of the stranded fishermen are located in a region which has not been affected so severely.

Jaishankar said the age of the people and nature of their residency would be taken into account while prioritizing evacuees.

Elizabeth Roche and Neetu Chandra Sharma contributed to this story.

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Updated: 12 Mar 2020, 11:31 PM IST
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