India, Saudi mulling air bubble deal: Envoy

Opening of IIT-Delhi and Indian School of Business-Hyderabad campuses in Saudi Arabia on cards

By   |  Published: 8th Nov 2020  12:09 amUpdated: 7th Nov 2020  6:53 pm
Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Dr Ausaf Saeed along with senior diplomats at a press conference.

Jeddah: India is working closely with Saudi Arabia to establish air bubble arrangement to facilitate unhindered travel between the two countries. The air bubble arrangement would be of immense use for a sizable number of Indians who have valid work visas of Saudi Arabia, but are unable to return to the country due to the pandemic.

An air bubble is a system established between two countries that perceive each other to be safe and allow their carriers to fly passengers either way without any restrictions. This is different from the repatriation flights which are only one way and the passengers have to register themselves with the embassies in other countries to fly back to India. Currently, India has an air bubble agreement with about 13 countries, including the United States, Germany, France, the United Kingdom, Canada, Maldives, UAE, Qatar, Bahrain, Nigeria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Japan.

“The travel ban on India by Saudi Arabia needs to be reviewed as Covid-19 cases per capita in India are much less compared to its population,” said Dr Ausaf Saeed, Indian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia.

Speaking to newsmen, the envoy said 2,32,556 Indians were repatriated from Saudi Arabia during the coronavirus pandemic. These Indian workers returned home through 1,295 special flights that were operated following suspension of regular flights between the two countries. Dr Saeed said 1,295 flights operated from Saudi Arabia included 276 of Vande Bharat Mission and remaining were chartered.

The repatriation of deportees, from jails and deportation centres after completing their sentences, is different from the regular repatriation process, he said. So far, 2,200 such people were repatriated with the cooperation of Department of Military Affairs.

Dr Saeed said so far 2,158 Indians had died in Saudi Arabia, including 850 due to Covid-19. Welcoming the proposed Saudi labour reforms, the Ambassador hoped that labour disputes would drop to some extent. Dr Saeed revealed that both countries were working in the field of higher education and healthcare. He informed that opening of campuses of IIT Delhi and Indian School of Business (ISB) of Hyderabad in Saudi Arabia was also on cards.

India was also working to establish Indian Cultural Centre in Riyadh, he said. The ongoing virtual yoga classes would be converted to in-person sessions soon by following social distance norms.

Highlighting growing relations between the countries, the Ambassador said that joint working groups involving trade, investment and industries had been meeting regularly.

Dr Saeed revealed that passport and consular services were expanding as Covid restrictions were eased. 82,270 passport-related services were being provided in the country.

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