March 14, 2020
Kayvann Shah has been camping outside the Indian embassy in Tehran for more than two weeks, waiting for his government to evacuate him and thousands of others from coronavirus-hit Iran.
Over 6,000 Indians have been stranded in Iran. Some of them joined Shah in protest, demanding that they be airlifted from the country where the coronavirus death toll has surged past 500.
“I have been in Iran for the last 20 days and since March 2 I have been visiting the Indian embassy in Tehran, requesting them to help me and my parents reach India, but no action has been taken so far. They just tell us to wait and be in touch through email,” Shah told Arab News from Tehran on Friday.
The dry fruit merchant from Mumbai said he was on a business trip when New Delhi decided to suspend all international flights and restrict entry of people from the coronavirus-affected countries.
“My parents are senior citizens and they need to be away from the country where coronavirus has struck badly, but the Indian government seems to be not caring for us,” Shah said, adding that even China has evacuated its citizens from Iran.
Vishnu and Dhiraj, who are protesting with Shah in front of the embassy, are also in despair.
“Indian government is behaving as if we are not Indians!” Vishnu told Arab News from Tehran.
On Thursday, Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar told the parliament that the government was testing samples taken from the citizens in Iran and would soon operate a limited number of commercial flights to evacuate them.
He said the coronavirus crisis is a serious issue, over which New Delhi is in touch with Iranian authorities.
“As per available information, there are over 6,000 Indian nationals in various provinces of Iran,” he said, adding a team of six health officials was sent to Tehran from India last week to collect the blood samples of the Iran-stranded nationals for testing.
“The first batch of 108 samples was received in India on March 7, and 58 Indian pilgrims who tested negative were repatriated,” the minister said.
However, according to the protesters, the testing process is slow and it would take months for them to be repatriated. “We are getting frustrated,” Shah said.
“Why can’t New Delhi evacuate us first and quarantine us in India as the Chinese are doing. The longer we are in Iran, the higher becomes the chance of us getting infected by the virus.”
According to government data, 81 cases of coronavirus infection have been recorded in India.
Many state governments have shut down schools, theaters and colleges, and banned mass gatherings. New Delhi has also postponed the Indian Premier League (IPL), one of the world’s most lucrative international cricket competitions.