Out of work and almost broke amid a ranging COVID-19 pandemic, many Indians working as caregivers in Israel have heaved a sigh of relief at the eagerly-awaited announcement that a special Air India flight will operate on May 25 to bring back Indian nationals stranded in the country.
The Indian government launched the 'Vande Bharat Mission' on May 7 to bring back Indians who were stranded in various countries due to coronavirus-related restrictions.
Under the phase one of the mission, the government evacuated a total of 6,527 Indians from the Gulf region and from countries like the US, the UK, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Malaysia and the Maldives.
"Air India has planned a flight on Delhi-Tel Aviv - Delhi sector on May 25 to repatriate Indian nationals stranded in Israel and are willing to meet the conditions set by the government such as an undertaking that they will go for mandatory quarantine. We will also offer Israelis who are currently in India and looking to come back to Israel to take the Delhi-Tel Aviv flight," Air India's country manager, Pankaj Tiwari, said.
The Indian embassy in Tel Aviv, in an announcement on May 15, said that it was looking into the possibility of facilitating the return of interested Indian nationals from Israel, who could not travel earlier due to COVID-19-related international travel restrictions.
"The passenger will have to bear the expenditure of travel and mandatory quarantine for self and family members (if accompanying) at destination", the announcement said.
"Around 140 people have so far contacted them for repatriation, out of which around 90 have provided their details and willingness to pay for ticket and quarantine," the embassy officials said.
With an overwhelming majority of possible passengers looking to go to Kerala, the Ministry of External Affairs is said to be looking at the possibility of arranging a connecting flight to Kochi from Delhi.
Annama Siby, who is from Kerala's Idukki district and came to Israel in 2013 as a caregiver but has been recently cleaning houses in Tel Aviv for a living, said that most of the people looking to go back are those without a job.
"I am without a job for almost four months now. I have no money and no work. I have to pay rent for my room and Israel is such an expensive place. The Israeli government has given us the permission to work but even those who would earlier give us some work are scared because of the coronavirus and we have to sit idle", Siby said.
"I want to go back to be with my husband and two sons, 8 and 13. I have requested the embassy to register me for the flight. I will borrow money from friends now and settle with them once I am back in India", she said.
Her husband, who is a school teacher in Idukki, has been taking care of the children. She had been visiting them once every two years earlier, but now does not plan to return.
Alex D'Souza, a 65-year-old man from Mangalore in Karnataka has been working near Beit Shemesh as a caregiver for 13 years. His employer died on March 17 this year and he has been without work and pay since then.
"I have registered for the flight but do not know how much I have to pay. I hope it is not something ridiculous like I heard of the people evacuated from Abu Dhabi had to pay", he said.
Anusree Sasi, who is from Ernakulam in Kerala, was planning to go back after completing work as per her contract on March 27 to get married and settle down. The COVID-19 lockdown has her stranded here due to lack of international flights and with no income during the past month and a half.
"I have worked in Ashkelon for two and a half years as a caregiver and didn't expect this to happen. I want to go back, get married and have no plans to come back," she said.
There are also several Indian students and researchers who have applied to go back for various reasons.
Akhila Viswan, a postdoctoral fellow at Bar-Ilan University had declined to take an extension and informed her Chemistry department about her plans to leave for India after finishing her one-year term. Her family has been waiting for her to come back and to get married.
"I did not extend my visa which got over in April as I am certain about going back. It has been a good learning experience here in Israel otherwise", she said.
Two of her friends have also registered to be repatriated with one securing a teaching position in India and the other looking to join his wife who is in an advanced stage of pregnancy.
Ministry of External Affairs will be approving the list of the passengers following which the Air India would be reaching out to them for bookings. The passengers would then receive a link for payments as has been the practice during evacuation of Indians from other destinations.
India has been under lockdown since March 25 to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus, which has claimed 2,872 lives and infected 90,927 people as of Sunday. All scheduled commercial passenger flights have been suspended during the lockdown period.
The deadly coronavirus which originated from China's Wuhan city in December last year has claimed 311,821 lives and infected over 4.6 million people, according to Johns Hopkins University data.