Kuwait offers to evacuate 45,000 Indians who benefited from visa amnesty scheme

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Police and civil aviation personnel wearing protective face masks work at the Kuwait Airport as the repatriation process of Kuwait citizens continues, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kuwait City.(REUTERS)

COURTESY BY: https://www.hindustantimes.com/

Kuwait on Friday offered to evacuate thousands of illegal Indian workers who benefited from a general amnesty, even as people familiar with developments said the two sides were in touch to resolve the issue.

Kuwaiti ambassador Jassem Al-Najem highlighted his government’s efforts to evacuate “all illegal workers of different nationalities, including Indian nationals, who were granted general amnesty”, according to a statement.

The Kuwaiti government has offered to send back the workers to their countries “free of cost and by its own civil airlines”, Al-Najem said. “Kuwait is looking forward to work with the Indian government to implement its massive evacuation plan to bring back the Indians who are willing to come back voluntarily to India after the complete lockdown ends on May 3…,” he added.

The statement was issued hours before the Indian government announced a two-week extension of the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown alongside the phased easing of restrictions in some areas.

Though the Kuwaiti statement didn’t give the number of Indians who benefited from the general amnesty, people familiar with developments in both countries said almost 45,000 Indian workers had been covered by the scheme.

Amid the economic downturn caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Kuwaiti side is keen on the speedy evacuation of the illegal workers from all countries.

“The Indian embassy is in touch with the Kuwaiti authorities to explore the best possible mechanism to facilitate the return of Indians form Kuwait,” one of the people cited above said on condition of anonymity.

There was no official word on the development from the Indian side.

Kuwait had recently announced an amnesty till April 30 for illegal migrants and workers whose visas expired after the imposition of Covid-19-related travel restrictions. Migrants who were undocumented or overstayed their visas will be allowed to leave Kuwait without paying fines.

Al-Najem also thanked the Indian government for facilitating the evacuation of Kuwaiti nationals stranded in the country on Kuwait Airways flights last week. He also thanked the Indian government for deploying a medical rapid response team to Kuwait for two weeks and providing two tonnes of medical equipment.

“The ambassador highly appreciated the Indian government’s gestures to continue supply of medicine, including paracetamol tablets and foods to Kuwait,” the statement said.

Indian and Kuwaiti authorities had to resort to damage control this week after a Cabinet note of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member state that expressed concern about “targeting of Indian Muslims” was leaked on social media.

Al-Najem reiterated a statement he had issued earlier this week that both countries shared the foreign policy principle of “non-interference in other countries’ affairs”.

Indians constitute the largest group of expatriates in Kuwait, with an estimated population of 1 million and their annual remittances are worth about $4.8 billion. India is also among Kuwait’s top 10 trading partners, with bilateral trade worth $6.2 billion during 2015-16.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Kuwaiti counterpart Sheikh Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah and external affairs minister S Jaishankar and his counterpart Ahmed Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Sabah have spoken on phone recently regarding cooperation to control the Covid-19 pandemic.

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