Indians stranded in Iran rue government's apathy

Around 1,500 Indians stuck in Iran are growing more desperate by the day as their government tells them to stay put

Indians stranded in Iran rue government's apathy

Around 1,500 Indian citizens stranded in Iran due to the COVID-19 pandemic are growing more desperate by the day to return home.

They are mostly fishermen and workers who are fast running out of essential supplies and are using all means possible to seek the Indian government’s attention and help.

Largely hailing from the Indian states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, and Gujarat, the fishermen, and workers are stuck in Iran’s Hormozgan province, bordering the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman.

They posted videos on social media, which have garnered thousands of views, urging the Indian government to “rescue” them from the “scary situation”.

“We are stranded at Azalur in Iran. Due to the outbreak of coronavirus in this country, we are confined to our rooms and cannot leave,” a group of fishermen said in a video posted in early March.

“Take us back to our families. We appeal to all prominent leaders in the country. All the flights from Iran to India have been suspended and that has affected us severely.”

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, fishermen stranded on Iran’s southern Kish Island said they have run out of food, medicines, and masks, and still have no news on their possible evacuation.

“We have already exhausted our food supplies and there is a shortage of masks and latex gloves as well,” a fisherman said. “We have literally been left in the lurch, with no information about our evacuation.”

As of Thursday, Iran had over 50,400 COVID-19 cases and the death toll was above 3,100, according to government figures.

On Tuesday, the Indian Embassy in Tehran said it was committed to the “well-being of all Indians in Iran”, urging them to “remain wherever you are”.

The embassy also told a group of 33 Indian students at a medical university on Kish Island to stay put.

The group had also posted videos demanding immediate evacuation.

“We are extremely worried, and so are our parents back home,” one of the students, hailing from Indian-administered Kashmir, told Anadolu Agency.

“For weeks now, we have been waiting anxiously to be screened for the virus or to be evacuated. But we are still being asked to wait; how long do we have to wait?”

In the city of Qom, the epicenter of the outbreak in Iran, around 280 Indian pilgrims have tested positive for COVID-19.

They, however, doubt the accuracy of the testing kits and are exasperated by the lack of help from the Indian Embassy.

“Firstly, we still do not know whether we are infected or not. And if we are, why is the Indian Embassy not paying any attention to our medical care, food, and other needs. We have even run out of money,” a pilgrim told Anadolu Agency from his hotel in Qom, located 160 kilometers south of the capital Tehran.

As the outbreak worsened in Iran, New Delhi blocked all flight operations of Iranian carriers Mahan Air and Iran Air.

However, unlike many other countries, the Indian government refused to send its official carrier Air India to Iran to evacuate Indian nationals, except for one flight.

In a letter to Indian premier Narendra Modi, the managing director of Iran’s Mahan Air offered to airlift stranded Indian citizens from Iran as a “humanitarian initiative”, while stating that the Indian carriers were “hesitant” to evacuate stranded Indians in Iran “due to illegal US sanctions”.

Over the past two weeks, more than 800 Indian students and pilgrims have been evacuated on Mahan Air flights.

The last flight went on March 28, after which operations were again suspended.

Last week, an Indian activist filed a plea in the country’s Supreme Court for the evacuation of citizens stranded in Iran.

In response to the court’s consequent notice, India’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday that the government “attaches high importance to safety and well-being of the Indians stranded in Iran” and continues to work to “facilitate their expeditious return.”

The petitioner, in turn, drew the court’s attention to the Indian Embassy’s failure to help three pilgrims who died in Iran last week.

All three hailed from Kargil in Indian-administered Kashmir and their cause of death is still not known.

While the court case continues and the Indian government drags its feet on evacuation, the thousands of citizens stranded in Iran try to find solace in their dreams of returning home.