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Helping hands in foreign lands: Diaspora organisations helping thousands of stranded Indians

Among Indians stranded overseas are techies, tourists and visitors, apart from the labourers in Gulf.

, ET Bureau|
Last Updated: May 24, 2020, 10.09 AM IST
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India’s overseas missions have been working closely with many of them to coordinate assistance.
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Since March, when India shut its doors to international flights, it has been a period of anxiety and uncertainty for Indians stuck overseas, especially those on the economic margins, such as students and blue-collar workers.

Even as the second phase of the Vande Bharat mission — the initiative to bring back citizens stuck in various parts of the world — is underway, thousands remain stranded, awaiting their turn. Among them are IT professionals, labourers in the Gulf, tourists and visitors travelling for religious and family events.

One of the key pillars of support during this time has been diaspora organisations. India’s overseas missions have been working closely with many of them to coordinate assistance. These volunteer groups have proven to be a lifeline for those who have run out of cash and are left to fend for themselves in a foreign land. These groups have organised lodging and access to healthcare, provided food and raised resources by reaching out to diaspora members.

Soon after India sealed its international borders, stories of the plight of Indian students stranded across the US came to light. Most US campuses were shutting down and several students had no other place to stay or return home. Indian American hoteliers, who own a large number of properties around the US, stepped in to offer free food and accommodation to the students and tourists at several towns.

“Members of our organisation, the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA), have been working with the Indian embassy and consulates to help students and tourists are stuck in various cities. Our members have pledged 2,000 free rooms over the last two months,” says Kalpesh Joshi, a Chicago-based hotelier and a regional director of AAHOA.

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Several hoteliers, mostly of Gujarati origin, didn’t want to give their names because they considered this as their responsibility. The hoteliers were joined in their philanthropic initiative by others, including the Asian American Storeowners Association (AASOA) and volunteer group Sewa International.

“Our members run convenience stores and gas stations across America and we have been helping several Indians stranded here with grocery kits, especially basic Indian items,” says Vipul Patel, the president of AASOA in Florida.

Sewa International is running a 24X7 helpline to help connect stranded Indians with community organisations. Overseas Malayali Association (ORMA) is also running a helpline to help stranded Indian migrants across the UAE. An estimated 1.8 lakh Indian workers in the Gulf are awaiting their turn to board one of the special flights being organised by the government.

“With the help of our members and their families, we are trying to address issues of food, medical support and medicine supplies of migrant workers who have lost their jobs and urgently need to travel back to India,” says Noufal Pattambi, executive member of ORMA. “We are supplying cooked food and dry rations to over 2,000 workers in distress.” ORMA, which is helping several non-Indian migrant workers also, is raising funds to buy air tickets for workers who can’t afford them.

“There are over 6,000 pregnant Indian women who are stuck here in the UAE who need to be evacuated at the earliest. We are in discussions with the Indian government,” Pattambi says.

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The group supplies cooked food and dry ration to Indian workers across the UAE; provides medical services, medicines and free air tickets to those who have lost their jobs; and runs a helpline around the clock to provide relief


The special flights to evacuate Indians from the UK were packed mostly with students but an estimated 5,000 are still stranded there. With campuses shut down, most are anxiously waiting for commercial flights to return.

National Indian Students and Alumni Union in UK (NISAU), an umbrella organisation representing students, alumni and working professionals of Indian origin, is coordinating with the Indian high commission as well as helping students stuck in remote places stay connected.

“Besides food and accommodation, we’re also helping students with career planning, dealing with mental health issues and organising fun activities to keep their spirits high. Our webinars on diverse topics are getting a lot of participants. A team is attending to queries online and on the phone 24/7,” says Sanam Arora, founder & chairperson, NISAU. Over 2,000 students have reached out to NISAU for various kind of assistances, she adds. The Indian Association of Northern Italy, too, is helping with online resources.

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“This part of the country was devastated by the pandemic and thousands of Indian students are stuck here. University authorities are mostly taking care of accommodation and meals. We are running yoga classes, music shows and other events online to keep them engaged. We are also helping them to stay connected with the Indian consulate general in Milan,” says Nand Kumar Kurup, a businessman and president, IANI.

Down Under, business owners at Little India, a street in Sydney that has over 50 businesses run by people of Indian origin, started distributing rations and meals to Indian students after flights were cancelled. Little India Australia is now helping hundreds of international students, and not just Indians.

“Many came to us for help. So we started an online registration process to streamline the service. Organisations such as the Hindu Council of Australia and the Australian Sikh Association have also joined hands with us. We are distributing and delivering dry Indian groceries, milk and cooked meals to people who need them. We are also delivering hampers of essentials to people who live in the far-flung suburbs. Besides students, we are also helping several stranded Indian tourists,” says Gurmeet Tuli, who runs a jewellery store and is the president of Little India Australia.
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