In one of the largest COVID-19-related repatriations from the Gulf by a private employer, a Saudi Arabia-based company has begun operating chartered flights to send home over 1,600 of its Indian employees.
In a statement, Expertise Contracting Company said six flights have already reached Chennai and Hyderabad on June 5, Ahmedabad and Delhi on June 6 and Mangaluru and Chennai on June 7.
The operations would conclude on June 11, with altogether nine flights to India.
The flights, chartered from Gulf Air and being operated from the city of Dammam in Saudi Arabia, also include the ones covering three other neighbouring countries, the statement said.
A company official told news agency PTI that 2,000 employees from various countries in the Indian subcontinent are being repatriated, of which 1,665 are Indians.
He said 12 chartered flights have been engaged to carry out the repatriation exercise to the Indian subcontinent.
Director of Expertise Contracting Company, KS Shaikh said the 20-year-old Expertise group, one of the largest conglomerates in the GCC operating in petrochemical and heavy equipment sectors, has more than 10,000 employees and their family members in the Gulf, mainly in Jubail, one of the largest industrial cities.
Of these, the company has chosen over 2,000 employees for the covid-related repatriations considering various emergencies, he said.
Mr Shaikh claimed that this has been the largest repatriation mission undertaken by any private company in the entire Middle East, which includes the cost of air travel and the quarantine expenses of the passengers and airline crew in the respective countries, all borne by the company.
He also thanked the governments of Saudi Arabia, India and others concerned and their various ministries and missions for their full-fledged support to the operations.
The company is ready to operate more such chartered flights as and when there are requirements and will be flying back the employees for free to their workplaces once the pandemic is subdued and conditions are safe, he said.
During the initial lockdown days of the pandemic, the borders of most of the countries in the world were closed and no country was allowing anyone to either enter or leave their respective countries, adding enormous stress to the migrant populations across the world, especially in the Gulf.
Mr Shaikh said a few of the family members of Expertise employees were pregnant or in need of medical care.
“Many of the employees above 50 years of age were also worried about their own health after the COVID-19 outbreak and we thought it was our duty to ensure their safe journey to their home countries, which made us plan and operate these chartered flights,” he said.
The company said it drew up a meticulous plan to execute the massive exercise and after closely working with various government departments of five countries for a period of 30 days, had finally received permissions for nine specially-chartered flights to India and to three of the neighbouring countries.
As per the schedule, remaining flights would arrive on in Kochi on June 10 and in Mangalore on June 11, it said.
Thousands of Indians stranded overseas including in the middle east have been brought back by the Indian government as part of the “Vande Bharat Mission”.