Indian nationals wanting to return to India on “compelling grounds” will be able to take non-scheduled commercial flights from London Heathrow to multiple destinations in India from May 7.
“Many are facing financial difficulties… due to the subsequent loss of part-time jobs”
“The government of India will be facilitating the return of Indian nationals stranded abroad on compelling grounds in a phased manner,” a government announcement read.
Air India will be operating flights, and priority will be for vulnerable citizens, and students will also be eligible.
Mohanish Borana, president of National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK – a student organisation which has been working in the UK since 2012 – said a large number of Indian students had become stranded in the UK due to the pandemic.
“Many are facing financial difficulties in managing their emergency expenses due to the subsequent loss of part-time jobs,” he explained.
NISAU has been communicating with thousands of students, and the organisation has helped many hundreds of students who said they could not afford food, he added.
“We have extended all possible support to these students to navigate and manage their sustenance in association with many community organisations.”
Based on the number of queries NISAU’s dedicated Covid-19 response team handles on a daily basis, the group estimates that anywhere between 8,000-10,000 students want to return to India.
“Given the number and scale involved along with the condition of compelling grounds, we sadly think there will be many who will not be able to return despite wanting to,” Borana explained.
“As we don’t have confirmation about when the majority will be able to return, we are further scaling our efforts in order to keep the heightened level of support going.”
Flights are on payment-basis, the government has said, with the flights to Delhi costing around Rs 50,000 (£530). Other destinations include Mumbai & Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Ahmedabad and Chennai.
But some students with the compelling grounds to travel may be unable to travel due to lack of funds, Borana added.
“We are going to be communicating such vulnerable cases to the High Commission of India on an urgent basis.
“Last month we had requested the Indian government for a hardship fund, and more recently we have requested the same for all international students from the British government via MP Virendra Sharma.
These requests are precisely for these vulnerable students. We are rooting them to be considered in the priority list as well,” Borana added.
“International students are falling through the safety net,” NISAU chairwoman Sanam Arora told The Guardian last week.
Medical screening will take place pre- and post-flight, and the government has said that only asymptomatic passengers would be allowed to travel.
On arrival, passengers will be required to register on the Aarogya Setu app, which the government has introduced to connect essential health services with the people of India, and will also have to remain in quarantine for 14 days.
As a volunteer-based organisation, NISAU has recently launched a fundraiser to support vulnerable Indian students and citizens in the UK. For more information on how to donate, visit the website here.