Srinagar: Union external affairs minister S. Jaishankar arrived on a surprise visit to summer capital Srinagar on Monday and met worried parents of hundreds of students stuck in coronavirus-hit Iran.
During the meeting, which lasted for around 50 minutes, at the Kashmir International Conference Centre, the parents made a joint representation to the minister, seeking early evacuation of the students from the country.
The health ministry tweeted at 9 pm that the flight to Iran to bring back India citizens had departed.
C-17 Flight has departed to #Iran at 20.30 hrs today to bring back Indian citizens.
We have already brought back 890 Indians and other nationals. Waiting for our citizens to come back!#SwasthaBharat @PMOIndia @drharshvardhan @asgwilli @MIB_India @PIB_India
— Ministry of Health (@MoHFW_INDIA) March 9, 2020
“We conveyed to the minister that our children have confined themselves to their hostels for the past 15 days after their colleges were closed down. We requested him for the early return of our children,” said Shabir Hussain, a parent from the Bemina locality.
Hussain’s daughter Beenish is a third-year MBBS student at Tehran University. “We talk to her regularly on the phone. Yesterday, she told us that the situation is becoming unbearable and that there is nobody from the government to take care of them,” Hussain told The Wire.
Bashir Ahmad, another parent, said that more than 400 parents were brought to the Centre to meet with the minister this morning. Ahmad’s son, Faizan is pursuing an MBBS degree at Shiraz University.
“Each time we talk to our son, he sounds very worried and helpless. He says he isn’t being able to sleep and has developed anxiety. We have been only getting hollow assurances from the government about the return of our children. Nobody is telling us clearly when our children will be brought back,” said Ahmad.
Husain said during the meeting the minister told them that a team from India has been sent to Iran to collect samples of the students for the conduct of the coronovirus test before they were evacuated.
“He (the minister) told us that they are following the required procedure to evacuate the students,” said Hussain.
This was Jaishankar’s maiden visit to Kashmir after assuming office last year.
Following the meeting, he took to Twitter and wrote: “Met in #Srinagar the families of Indian students in #Iran. Assured them that our Embassy @India_in_Iran is monitoring their welfare. We are committed to facilitating their early return to India.”
Met in #Srinagar the families of Indian students in #Iran. Assured them that our Embassy @India_in_Iran is monitoring their welfare. We are committed to facilitating their early return to India. pic.twitter.com/etNFc1pAsc
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) March 9, 2020
According to the parents, they did not get any “concrete assurance” from the minister on the return of their children.
“We were only told that the government is working on a plan to bring the students back,” said Syed Mehdi. His daughter is also studying medicine at a college in Iran. “Our children are going through mental agony. We are growing worried as more cases of coronavirus have come to fore in Iran and the disease is spreading there.”
Last week, scores of parents from different districts of Kashmir held a protest in Srinagar’s Press Enclave and demanded that the students be airlifted from Iran – which has recorded the highest number of deaths due to coronavirus after China and Italy.
Several political parties, including the National Conference, Congress and the PDP, have also repeatedly urged the government to ensure an early return of the students.
National Conference MP Hasnain Masoodi had also raised the issue in Lok Sabha last week. “The Government of India should also swing into action and take necessary steps to come to the rescue of stranded Kashmiris there,” he had said.