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Exclusive: Deputy High Commissioner of India speaks about current and next phase of repatriation flights from Australia

Air India crew, consulate staff and passengers ahead of repatriation flight from Melbourne on May 23, 2020. Source: Supplied

Nearly 10,000 Indian passport holders stranded in Australia who wish to return home registered their interest with the High Commission, said the Deputy High Commissioner of India, P.S. Karthigeyan in an exclusive interview with SBS Punjabi.

There were an estimated 270,000 Indian passport holders in Australia when the coronavirus outbreak started disrupting lives early this year and as India swiftly closed its borders to prevent the spread of the virus, according to the numbers revealed by the Indian High Commission in Canberra.

In an interview with SBS Punjabi, Mr P.S. Karthigeyan said a total of 9,948 Indian nationals registered their interest to return home, of whom 1,350 had been repatriated as of May 26, as part of the 'Vande Bharat Mission', a massive evacuation process initiated by the Indian government. 


  • 9,948 Indian nationals in Australia registered their interest to return home with the High Commission
  • Nearly 1800 Indians will be repatriated by the end of the first phase of the evacuation
  • "Hopeful of more repatriation flights in the not so distant future," said P.S. Karthigeyan

“We opened the registration for about a week to get a realistic assessment of what would be the need here. We had a catchment of 2.7 lakh people holding Indian passports, including 100,000 students here in Australia at the time when the borders were closed in March.

"In the registration, we got about 9948 and of course, there could be people who did not register but were in the needy category,” said Mr Karthigeyan.

P.S. Karthigeyan, Deputy High Commissioner of India to Australia
SBS Tamil

Reaffirming his commitment to the remaining Indian nationals anxious to return to India, the Deputy High Commissioner said they are “hopeful of more flights in the not so distant future.”

“We are committed to taking care of all the Indian nationals here and we are hopeful of more flights in the not so distant future, so that we can accommodate all those who have been left out in the first phase. Right now, we do not have the details of the next phase, but we will put it up on our website as soon as we know.”

He, however, cautioned that given the huge number of people who are keen to go home, it would not be possible for them to repatriate everyone who has registered with the High Commission.

“Given the capacity and demand, it’s not possible to repatriate every Indian national to India. We are limited to compelling needs only,” he added.

First repatriation flight from Australia leaves for New Delhi
A picture of passengers from the first repatriation flight from Australia that left for New Delhi on May 21, 2020.

Explaining the criteria used to shortlist the passengers, Mr Karthigeyan said they used  a clear set of parameters to draw a list of passengers for the first phase of evacuation that will end on May 28.

“There were eight parameters used, like somebody with a serious medical condition, somebody who had a family emergency like death, bereavement or critical condition of close relatives.

"Then there were elders and pregnant women, stranded tourists, people who were laid off from their jobs, people whose visas were expiring soon and students whose institutions had shut down due to the COVID-19 situation,” he said.

Click on the player above to listen to the full interview with Mr Kathigeyan as he talks about flight capacity, quarantine arrangements and the next phase of evacuation.

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