Air India evacuates 115 stranded Indians from Israel

Out of the 121 passengers aboard flight AI 140, some 85 of them would take a connecting flight to Kochi on Tuesday from Delhi. Most of the Kochi passengers are caregivers who have wished to be quarantined close to their home.

Agencies
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Ben-Gurion Airport (Tel Aviv): Some 115 Indians, including out of work and broke caregivers, students and pregnant women, were all smiles as they boarded an Air India flight here on Tuesday and left for India after being stranded in Israel for more than two months due to the COVID-19 lockdown.

The flight took off at 1 AM IST and also carried a Nepalese national Prabha Baskota, married to an Indian, and five Israeli diplomats posted in Delhi.

Out of the 121 passengers aboard flight AI 140, some 85 of them would take a connecting flight to Kochi on Tuesday from Delhi. Most of the Kochi passengers are caregivers who have wished to be quarantined close to their home.


"These are very challenging times and the Vande Bharat Mission flight to India is one of our many efforts to reach out to our community of students and caregivers here in Israel," India's ambassador to Israel Sanjeev Singla told at the airport.

"The Ministry of External Affairs, the Civil Aviation Ministry, the Home Ministry, the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the embassy have taken all possible steps to ensure that our nationals stranded and facing hardships for various reasons are able to return home", Singla said.

The Indian government launched the ''Vande Bharat Mission'' on May 7 to bring back Indians stranded in various countries due to coronavirus-related restrictions.
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Under Phase I of the mission, the government evacuated a total of 6,527 Indians from the Gulf region and from countries like the US, the UK, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Malaysia and the Maldives.

Among the passengers on Tuesday was 74-year-old Sam Edelji Turel from Maharashtra, who came to Israel in February for treatment of lymphoma.

"I was referred to Sheba Medical Centre and I was happy to see the state of the art technology being used in Israel for the treatment of Lymphoma. I got very professional care during my treatment after coming here on February 3. My treatment got over on April 10 and since then me and my wife have been waiting to go back", Turel said.

"I must say that we are very lucky that a flight has been organised for stranded Indians like me. As elderly people, we cannot thank enough for this help. At the same time I hope that I can reach Mumbai and be quarantined there as I continue to need medical care and my doctors are there," he said.
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Some pregnant women waiting to collect their boarding passes looked quite relieved after having gone through weeks of uncertainty and forced to stay on without any support after having been laid off by their employers.

Soumya Jose, who is from Kerala and in an advanced stage of pregnancy, expressed "warm appreciation at this gesture" and "happiness at the prospect of returning to her home during a critical time".
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Most of the passengers are caregivers who had been laid off by their employers.

Annama Siby, who is from Kerala's Idukki district and came to Israel in 2013 as a caregiver but has been recently cleaning houses in Tel Aviv for a living, said that most of the people going back are those without a job.

"I was without a job for almost four months now. I have no money and no work. I had to pay rent for my room and Israel is such an expensive place. The Israeli government had given us the permission to work but even those who would earlier give us some work were scared because of the coronavirus and we had to sit idle," Siby said.

Akhila Viswan, a postdoctoral fellow in Chemistry at one of the leading universities in Israel, was "stressed out" till she got her ticket confirmed as her marriage has been fixed in India and the COVID-19 related lockdown had turned all the those plans topsy-turvy.

"I reached the airport way ahead of time to make sure that there are no surprises. I can't tell you the feeling when I got my boarding pass", she said, heaving a sigh of relief.
The national carrier which has stepped up to support the government mission to help bring back stranded Indians has also kept the price of the tickets reasonable.

"All of us going to Delhi have paid USD 679 for the ticket. Those going to Kochi have paid USD 750," a relieved student said, adding that, "We thought given the extraordinary situation we may have to pay something abnormal, but it's the same fare that we pay during normal times".

Air India's country Head Pankaj Tiwari told that the airline even took pains to adjust the fares of those who had bought tickets through its sales office and were looking for a refund or adjustment.

The Indian embassy in Tel Aviv in an announcement on May 15 said that it was looking into the possibility of facilitating the return of interested Indian nationals from Israel, who could not travel earlier due to COVID-19-related international travel restrictions.

Most of those who provided details and expressed willingness to pay for the ticket and quarantine boarded the flight today, the embassy officials said.

Almost all the embassy staff was present at the airport to see off the passengers and also distributed a package with gloves and masks for their onward journey.
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