In India, all scheduled commercial passenger flights have been suspended since the end of March, leaving hundreds of thousands of Indian nationals stranded abroad. In Hungary, currently 70-80 Indians have been stranded for almost two months now, who had arrived for a short term stay on business or travel visas, but were not able to travel back to their home country due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to the Embassy, the Indians currently residing in Hungary will possibly travel from Frankfurt back to their home country on one of the evacuation flights – however, they still need to get to Germany and border closures are still imposed almost everywhere in Europe.
All scheduled commercial passenger flights – not only international but domestic as well – have been suspended in India since March 25th, when the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government imposed a lockdown to curb the spread of coronavirus. Although in early May a massive repatriation operation began, there are still a great number of Indian citizens stranded abroad, for example in Hungary, where approximately 70-80 Indians contacted each other and the embassy to solve the situation.
Some of the Indians stranded in Hungary have contacted Hungary Today to share details of their situation. Most of them arrived in Hungary for business and personal reasons, with expiring visas, however, they were not able to leave the country after the coronavirus situation escalated both in Hungary and India. Although the Immigration Office gave temporary resident permit cards valid until the middle of June 2020 for those who have contacted them, it is getting harder and harder every day to continue their livelihoods here.
One of them, along with 3 other colleagues, arrived for a short term business visit on a business visa for one month, and was supposed to travel back on April 1st. However, as soon as the situation got worse, they tried to travel back early, but as the lockdown was imposed and commercial international flights ceased, they became stuck here. They said that “it is almost 2 months now that we are stranded abroad, away from our families, and some of us are facing problems with food and health issues due to that.”
Another Indian national was working as a researcher at the University of Szeged in the months leading up to the pandemic, until March 31, 2020. After plans for traveling back to India by the end of March 2020 failed, they became “stranded in Hungary without a job contract and salary, which makes it very difficult to stay here.” As they are not insured in Hungary, and for weeks only the essential healthcare services were available, two of the women have also been worrying about their health conditions, as they are pregnant. One of them is seven months pregnant, close to their due date, while one of the men has an 8 months pregnant wife back in India, due in July. According to their reports, there are also children stranded in Hungary, and all of them are worrying about their elderly parents and family members they left behind in India.
During the first phase of the repatriation operation, nearly 15,000 Indians were expected to return on special Air India flights from 12 countries, paying their own fares and being tested before boarding flights. Eventually, about 200,000 Indians will be brought back, according to reports. If successful, this would be India’s biggest evacuation mission since 1990, when it rescued 170,000 civilians from Kuwait during the Gulf War.
However, those Indians stranded in Hungary have not been so lucky. Though the Indian Embassy in Hungary has already been in touch with them via e-mails and phone calls and started to plan their evacuation, it has not happened yet. The Embassy said to Hungary Today that they “fully understand their situation and share their feelings to return to India as soon as possible,” adding that as “there are no scheduled commercial flights operating on the international routes now, plans are afoot to have the stranded Indians in European countries evacuated through our special evacuation flights from select European cities.”
According to the Embassy, the Indians currently residing in Hungary will possibly travel from Frankfurt back to their home country on one of the evacuation flights. However, this requires further planning as the borders are still closed on the route to Germany, so the Embassy is in talks with their headquarters in Delhi and concerned Indian Embassies in Europe.
featured photo: Haris Tjagi/MTI/EPA