In early 2020, the world as we knew it was in trouble. A virus that spread from human to human that originated in Wuhan, China spread across the world like wildfire. Countries sealed borders and people died like the world was about to end. Amidst all this, a small group of committed Australians volunteered to help bring home the 6000 plus Australians stuck in India. Find out how they managed this mammoth task, with minimal help from Australian government and no commercial Airlines running.
India, a country of 1.3 billion people was at a big risk when a pandemic like COVID19 started spreading across the nation in March 2020. PM Narendra Modi knew exactly how badly India would be effected, if COVID19 starts spreading across the nation. Owing to this, a 21 day nationwide lockdown was proposed. While this was necessary to protect India, this meant doom for the 6000+ Australians stuck in India. They now had no way to head back to their homes.
Australians across India started getting anxious when, one after the other- international commercial flights started getting cancelled. Meanwhile, Government of India officially announced that no international flights would run until mid April.
All Australians were encouraged to send their details to the Australian High Commission on an excel sheet that was passed around. But Australian High Commission said they couldn’t promise anything substantial yet. As the days passed, all the Australians that were stuck in India became more and more anxious. A petition was also started to request the government to bring stranded Aussies home. There was complete lockdown in India, even then the cases were increasing exponentially.
Necessity is the mother of invention- Plato
When nothing else worked, an Australian expatriate living in Delhi named Simon Quinn decided to help the many Australians stuck in India.
This is how he went about it at a microlevel:
- He made a facebook group named “Australians stuck in India” & encouraged people to spread the word and help reach out to as many Australians in India as possible.
- He also created a special Watsapp group so that all of us could chat with each other and discuss ways to reach Australia.
- He got in touch with Australian High Commission (AHC), Australian ministers and few others that had a good reach in the Airlines or were influential in decision making.
- He was persistent in his approach and made sure to send consistent emails/ calls to the higher officials to help crack up a solution to bring everyone back home.
- Over time the number of people that needed repatriation grew to 6000 and he wasn’t able to manage everything all alone.
- Watsapp has a limitation of maximum 250 people which made ut difficult for others to join in.
- At this moment he decided to split up the single Watsapp group into 4 different ones- each based on 4 areas of India.
- Watsapp group Australians stuck in India- North consisted of states like Punjab, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Chandigarh etc
- Australians stuck in India- West consisted of states of Maharashtra, Gujarat and Goa
- Australians stuck in India- South consisted of the states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.
- Australians stuck in India- East consisted of Calcutta and surrounding areas.
Simon knew he wouldn’t be able manage each and every Watsapp group so he appointed a leader for every area. There were further Watsapp groups created for every city from which Australians had to be rescued. These were named “XYZ exit plan” with XYZ being the name of that respected city.
How exactly were the charter flights arranged?
A core team was assigned that included himself, Sam, Dr Kimberly, Dr Virk and few others. These volunteers worked day and night to help work out a way to rescue so many Australians.
An Australian company, Stratos Group Aviation, helped in this mammoth rescue operation and helped the group with leasing an aircraft, while another charter company Monarc Global supported them with setting up an online booking system.
Dr Jagvinder Singh Virk, the chairman of the India Australia Strategic Alliance, was spearheading the operation from Australia, but all of this wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the governments of the two countries.
Arranging the movement passes for more than 2500 pax amidst complete lockdown
The Australian High Commission came to our rescue and organised movement passes for each of the 2500 plus passengers, which took longer than what we had initially estimated. We received the passes in our email. All the travellers from a particular city were divided into small buses, where we could maintain social distancing.
From my memory, we had around 3 buses from Pune alone, 10-12 buses from Mumbai, few from Gujarat and others from other parts of Maharashtra all heading towards Mumbai Airport and a similar structure was designed for people arriving from around Delhi and Chennai.
This is how this mammoth task of repatriating 2500 plus travellers was carried out by a small group of Australian volunteers.
Here is a pictorial glimpse of the flight journey from Mumbai to Adelaide.