India repatriates almost 4 000, but slow response criticised
INDIA’S evacuation of nearly 4 000 nationals from Yemen has been a triumph of improvisation, but some officials have slammed the slow response to the crisis.
India rescued more than 1 000 people by plane and ship on Monday, the most on a single day since Saudi Arabia launched air strikes against Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen on March 26.
And yesterday, India flew 600 nationals out of Sanaa and planned to make its last evacuation flights from the capital today, the ministry said.
However, some officials in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said the late assessing of the crisis had underlined the need for a fulltime deployment of staff to protect Indians abroad.
No Indians have been reported killed or wounded in Yemen.
India has been asked by 26 nations – including the US – to help get their citizens out of the conflict zone.
Yet New Delhi struggled for days to ramp up its own rescue effort and had to hire a ship to make the first evacuation of its nationals from the port of Aden as fighting escalated there.
Government insiders drew a comparison with China’s swifter evacuation of 570 nationals on warships that was completed on March 31.
An Indian navy patrol vessel was only able to go in on the following day.
India’s rescue effort got off to a false start, with planes commandeered from Air India sitting idle in Muscat, Oman, because it was impossible to negotiate the opening of a safe air corridor with the Saudis.
The mission only really started moving with the deployment of foreign office minister VK Singh – a retired army chief – at a forward operations base in Djibouti, across the Gulf of Aden, from where air force transporters have picked up evacuees brought out by Air India from Sanaa and flown them home.
A second official said the challenges of evacuating thousands of Indian nationals from fighting in Iraq last year had shown that fulltime staff are needed to rescue overseas Indians in times of crisis.
“We were late in assessing the crisis, and this was exactly the same case during the Iraq crisis,” he said.
The scramble jars with Modi’s ambition to boost India’s global influence, by increasing the military’s ability to project power and by connecting with a large and widely dispersed diaspora that was long neglected by the government.
The Ministry of External Affairs has, however, rebutted criticism that it was slow to warn more than 4 000 Indians living in Yemen to leave, saying it issued the first of a series of advisories in January as the security situation deteriorated.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Syed Akbaruddin declined to comment on calls for a permanent evacuation staff, saying the rescue had gone remarkably well in difficult conditions.
There are 21 million people of Indian origin abroad. They send home an estimated $70-billion (R827-billion) a year in remittances.