Yemen evacuation: Over 350 head home on two IAF flights

New Delhi: The Indian evacuation efforts of its stranded nationals in strife-torn Yemen was in full swing on Wednesday, as two Indian Air Force flights took off from Djibouti, on the Horn of Africa, carrying over 350 Indian nationals back home even as a naval ship went back to a Yemeni port to ferry more Indians to safety.

A Globemaster transport plane took off from Djibouti carrying 168 Indians. It is expected to arrive at Kochi in Kerala at 1.30 a.m. on Thursday, the defence ministry tweeted. A second Globemaster C-17 aircraft took off for Mumbai at a quarter to 11 p.m. with 190 Indians on board, defence ministry spokesperson Sitanshu Kar tweeted. The second flight is expected to arrive in Mumbai at 3.15 a.m.

Kar also said INS Sumitra, which had ferried the 350 Indians to Djibouti from the southern Yemeni port of Aden on Tuesday night, has left Djibouti for Al Hodeidah, a port city on the west coast of Yemen. It is likely to reach there on Thursday forenoon, he tweeted.

Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh, who reached Djibouti on Tuesday, was coordinating the evacuation operation with the Indian Navy and the Indian Air Force. External affairs ministry spokesperson Syed Akbaruddin tweeted a photograph of the minister wishing a small boy on the second flight a safe journey home.

Of the 350 Indians evacuated, 206 belong to Kerala, 40 are from Tamil Nadu, 31 from Maharashtra, 23 from West Bengal, 22 from Delhi, 15 from Karnataka and 13 from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, according to
tweets by Akbaruddin. Two warships -- destroyer INS Mumbai and stealth frigate INS Tarkash -- are also on their way to Djibouti as part of an operation named "Op Raahat".

India has also agreed to requests from neighbours Bangladesh and Sri Lanka to assist in evacuation of their nationals from Yemen. According to Sri Lankan media reports, the island nation's foreign ministry said there were around 75-100 Sri Lankan expatriates, including students in Yemen.

The Colombo Gazette said the "Indian government has promptly acceded to the request of the government of Sri Lanka to bring the stranded Sri Lankans along with Indian nationals in Yemen, who are to be evacuated
by air and sea on special flights and ships respectively".

The Bangladeshi foreign secretary on Wednesday said India had agreed in principle to help Bangladesh evacuate its nationals, but after pulling out its own nationals. The Indian High Commission tweeted: "India to Assist in Evacuation of Bangladesh Nationals from Yemen."

According to the Bangladesh government estimates, between 1,500 and 3,000 Bangladeshis, who mostly work with international organisations, live in Yemen. Fighting has been going on in Yemen since January 22 when the government under President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi was ousted by Shia Houthi forces.

This has provoked the recent military campaign by a coalition of 10 countries led by Saudi Arabia. Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy on Wednesday urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to act fast to help Keralites stranded in Yemen. In a letter, Chandy said he was getting frantic calls from young Kerala nurses in Yemen.

He pointed out that Pakistani and Chinese nationals had already been evacuated. "They (nurses) all are literally weeping and are afraid for their lives if urgent steps are not taken," wrote Chandy. He also pressed Modi to prevail upon Saudi Arabia to ensure landing facilities for Indian flights in Sana'a and other airports in Yemen.

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