External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar who is on a two-day visit to Saudi Arabia starting Saturday highlighted the Vande Bharat Mission under which 70 million people were brought back from all over the world. “We brought back 70 million people under Vande Bharat Mission from all over the world. No one has done that, it is the biggest evacuation and was done during the COVID-19 pandemic. That is India that the world sees today,” said Jaishankar during his interaction with the Indian community in Riyadh.
Vande Bharat Mission is the biggest evacuation exercise to bring back Indian citizens stranded abroad amidst coronavirus-induced travel restrictions. It is also considered as the largest exercise to bring back Indian citizens since the evacuation of 177,000 people from the Gulf region in the early 1990s at the start of hostilities between Iraq and Kuwait during the first Gulf War.
The mission gave priority to Indian citizens with “compelling reasons to return” – like those whose employment was terminated, those whose visas expired and were not expected to be renewed under the Covid circumstances and those who lost family members during those times. Under the repatriation plan, the government facilitated the return of Indian nationals stranded abroad on compelling grounds in a phased manner.
Jaishankar also lauded the growing ties between India and Saudi Arabia. “During the past few years, we saw our international friendships. Saudi Arabia was very helpful and provided supplies of oxygen. Two years of Covid are when the country was tested but we came through,” said Jaishankar on his first trip to the Kingdom as India’s External Affairs Minister.
Talking about Covid vaccinations he said, “I go for tours, see that people of several countries have not been vaccinated as they did not have them, and countries which had everything but still people are not vaccinated. It was this gap we crossed, where we produced our own vaccines and also drove people to be vaccinated.” Speaking about the key role the Indian diaspora plays in the ties between the two countries he expressed appreciation for the Indian community in Riyadh.
“In many ways, all of you shaped the image of India and what Saudis think about India and what we are about. Consciously or unconsciously, all of you through your achievements, contributions, profession, and friendships have collectively built up what is the total Saudi perception of India. For that, your country will be always grateful. I would like to express my appreciation for the government and the country for all of you. We know, it’s not always easy living abroad,” said Jaishankar. “We have two and half million Indians living in Saudi Arabia, at the time the numbers have been more. Naturally, you will have your concerns, your interests, your problems and it’s very useful for me to know that, to understand that, so, that when I engage with the authorities, with my counterpart or with the officialdom, I have also your interest at heart. In some way, we as the govt or I as Foreign Minister or the Embassy or the foreign ministry can be helpful to advance your interest to make you more comfortable, to ensure that your requirements are met and your problems in whatever way may be addressed,” he added.