Govt Fails to Evacuate Kashmir Students, Pilgrims from Iran

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Tehran has extended the closure of universities and a ban on concerts and sports events for a week.

Srinagar – Over 300 Kashmiri students studying in various universities and colleges across Iran are distressed as Indian government has failed to evacuate them so far.

Many students from Kashmir pursuing medicine and other professional courses in Iran told Kashmir Observer that their universities and colleges have closed for annual holidays but they are unable to return home after Indian government suspended all flights from Iran following the outbreak of coronavirus in the country. “Indian authorities have left us at the mercy of God and our pleas to be evacuated from Iran have fallen on deaf ears”, they alleged.

“We approached (Indian) embassy with a plea to be evacuated, but our requests remain unanswered. It seems they won’t as the emergency hasn’t been declared yet in Iran.” said Rafiq Ahmed from Balhama area of Srinagar, who is pursuing medicine at the Shiraz University.

Rafiq said that there are more than 300 Kashmiri students in Iran who are confined to their hostels as colleges have been closed for annual two month long Nowruz holidays ahead of schedule this year as a precautionary measure.

The students who had booked tickets are stranded in Tehran and various cities as all flights to and from India stopped following Indian government decision after coronavirus cases were detected in the country.

These students are making frantic calls to their parents to help them in evacuation from Iran which has recorded fourth largest number of coronavirus cases after China, South Korea and Japan.

Virus spread has sparked growing concerns in the Gulf, with Saudi Arabia having recently halted pilgrimage to holy cities of Makkah and Medina.

On Saturday Iran’s health ministry said 205 new cases of coronavirus have been confirmed in the country.

The new numbers bring the total deaths in the country to 43 among 593 cases.

“We have been urging government to evacuate us but we still haven’t received any response,” said Masooma, an MBBS student from Tehran University of Medical Sciences (TUMS).

Masooma said when she contacted Indian embassy in Tehran the officials there said that they have received no order till now regarding evacuation and until and unless Iran declares an emergency situation, embassy can’t do anything.

The problem of students is compounded as they are running out of money as US sanctions bar money transfer to Iran from other countries.

So far, the Indian embassy has issued an emergency contact number and an email for the Indian nationals to keep in touch.

“We have been trying our best to reach out to authorities & also allay each others fears, but technically the more time we spend here, more we are at risk,” another TUMS student Muteeb Ahmad said.

Mohammad Hussain Mir, whose daughter is pursuing MBBS at TUMS, said he is concerned about the safety of his daughter. “We are helpless. The Indian government should immediately take some steps to evacuate our children from Iran,” he pleaded.

“I advised my daughter to travel to other country and then come to India but I was told the neighbouring countries have also halted flight operation to and from Iran,” Mir said.

Dr. Nisar Ali Sofi, a Kashmiri research scholar at the Tehran University said, there are many Indian citizens stuck in various cities of Iran and they include students, pilgrims, businessmen and labourers. “They are in a very panic situation because GOI has stopped flights to and from Iran to India and at the same time has failed to provide a substitute”.

“Government of India is requested to make sure these Indian nationals are evacuated to India as soon as possible before anything untoward happens to them,” he said.

When contacted Divisional Commissioner, Kashmir Baseer Ahmed Khan said his administartion has taken up the issue with the concerned authorities in Iran and are hopeful that the students will be evacuated in the coming days

“Indian embassy in Tehran met the concerned officials today regarding the issue and I am hopeful that the students will be back in Kashmir in coming days,” he told Kashmir Observer.

Meanwhile, Srinagar district administration has also set up a helpline for the students residing in Iran.

“Indian students in Tehran may contact the embassy helpline. Given a large number of requests and emails, our helpline +919419028251 Srinagar/Kashmir) will be functional 24×7 for any assistance. Thankful to @MEAIndia for the prompt response,” tweeted Dr. Shahid Iqbal Choudhary, District Commissioner, Srinagar.

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib did his Masters in Convergent Journalism from Central University of Kashmir (CUK) and is currently working with Kashmir Observer as Special Correspondent. He has been contributing stories for the newspaper especially on Politics, Security & defence and has a keen interest in Environment.

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