The Indian government is facilitating repatriation flights, as part of the ongoing Operation Ganga, for thousands of Indian nationals stranded in war-torn Ukraine.
Around 16,000 Indian nationals, including students, have been trapped in several regions of Ukraine since Russian President Vladimir Putin declared war on the country on Thursday, 24 February.
Over the last days, hundreds of students have been evacuated on Air India flights from the neighbouring countries of Ukraine such as Hungary, Poland, the Slovak Republic, and Romania.
However, this isn’t the first time that India has conducted large-scale evacuations of Indian nationals from foreign nations. In the past 20 years, the country has arranged for repatriation flights for Indians stranded in foreign lands reeling from war or natural disasters.
Vande Bharat Mission
Soon after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, which put an indefinite halt to international flights around the globe, the Indian government, on 7 May 2020, arranged repatriation flights for Indians stranded in foreign nations to be conducted in a phased manner.
The mission is one of the largest civilian evacuations done by any country during peacetime, evacuating over 1.8 million Indians in over 15 phases since 2020, surpassing the number of Indians rescued during the 1990 large-scale lift-off of over 1,10,000 people from war-torn Kuwait during the Gulf War.
A total of 84 flights were operated in the first phase of evacuations that lasted 11 days from 7-17 May.
Air India almost exclusively conducted the first three phases of the repatriation flights, operating 11,523 inbound flights to carry 18,19,734 passengers till now. Other private players were roped in by the fourth phase and the Indian government is currently conducting its 16th phase of the repatriation flights.
Although flights were facilitated by the Centre, air fares were paid by the passengers with no grant/subsidy provided by the government.
Operation Safe Homecoming
The Indian government had commenced Operation Safe Homecoming on 26 February 2011 to rescue over 15,400 Indian nationals stuck in Libya during the civil war. The Libyan civil war was fought between forces commanded by Colonel Muammar Gaddafi and rebel forces who wanted to oust the government.
Tensions escalated with protests in Benghazi on 15 February when clashes with the police that fired on the crowd with tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons. This led to a nationwide rebellion against Gaddafi.
As protests intensified, the Indian government facilitated nine Air India flights from Libya (Tripoli and Sebha), Egypt (Alexandria), and Malta while others were evacuated by the Indian Navy.
Operation Maitri was initiated by the Indian government in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake on 25 April 2015. The 7.8-magnitude earthquake killed over 8,000 people and is recorded as the worst natural disaster to strike Nepal since 1934.
The earthquake triggered two different avalanches, one on Mount Everest where 22 people were killed and the other in Langtang valley where 250 people were reported missing or dead.
Operation Maitri was the joint relief and rescue efforts of the Indian government and the Indian Armed Force, which brought 5,000 Indians back from Nepal by Air Force and civilian planes.
The Indian Air Force had mobilised its Il-76, C-130J Hercules and C-17 Globemaster transport aircraft and Mi-17 helicopters to respond within minutes of the earthquake and carry relief supplies to Kathmandu.
On 27 March 2015, the Yemeni government conducted a military intervention against Houthi rebels. After several requests by ousted President Mansur Hadi, a Saudi-led coalition of Arab states, including the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Bahrain, Sudan, and Kuwait, launched air strikes against Houthi targets and deployed small ground forces against the rebels.
However, two days before the attack by Arab coalition, Indian government had issued an advisory for Indians trapped in Yemen to evacuate as soon as possible.
Since Yemen was declared a no-fly zone, the government chose Djibouti to carry out the evacuation by sea.
Of a total of 5,600 people who were evacuated, 2,900 Indians were evacuated by 18 special flights from Sana’a and 1,670 Indians by Indian navy ships from four ports in Yemen. A total of 960 foreign nationals from 26 countries were also rescued in the joint air-sea rescue mission.
Operation Sukoon, or the ‘Beirut Sealift,’ was launched by the Indian Navy in July 2006 to evacuate Indians, Sri Lankans, Nepalese and Lebanese nationals with Indian spouses from Lebanon during the Israel-Lebanon war in 2006.
On 12 July, Lebanese Shia Islamist political party and militant group Hezbollah launched a cross-border raid against the Israel Defence Forces, which lasted 34 days until United Nations brokered a ceasefire on 14 August 2006.
During the war, one Indian citizen was killed and three were wounded in an Israeli bomb attack in Lebanon.
Fearing escalation of fatalities, the Indian government, with the help of Indian Armed Forces, evacuated about 2,280 people between July 19 and August 1 2006.