Canadians stranded in Delhi fear the worst
VANCOUVER -- As Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a 21-day complete lockdown for the entire country, Canadians and permanent residents still in India scrambled to find a way out, but with travel heavily restricted, many fear they will not be able to return home any time soon.
"There will be a total ban on venturing outside of your homes. Therefore, I request you to remain wherever you are in this country," Modi said in a televised address to the nation outlining the government’s latest moves in the fight against COVID-19.
The news came at a stressful time for Cloverdale’s Ravi Gill, whose father Hardin Singh Gill has been trying to get home from a village in India’s Punjab region but recently had his flight cancelled.
"So they’ve had to travel six hours to go to the airport to find out the flight’s cancelled. And then six hours back home to the village," said Gill, who estimates that within his circle of family and friends there are 90 people in India right now trying to return to Canada.
"We’re just one story out of thousands all over Canada. It’s very hard," he said.
About 17,600 Canadians in India have registered with the voluntary Registration of Canadians Abroad service, but registration is voluntary so there are likely more than that.
Working hand in hand with airlines, the Canadian government has plans to dispatch planes to various corners of the world on repatriation missions, but given the sheer number of Canadian citizens and permanent residents on the sub-continent right now, Gill knows it will not be an easy task to get them all home.
"We’ve seen other repatriation flights coming from Morocco, from Peru. The number of Canadians that are in those countries is not as great as the number that are in India right now," he said. "We understand it’s difficult for the government to send over 500 planes to India to bring everybody back but we want to see some action. One, two, three, four or five planes going there, right? And as soon as possible."
The federal government admits it’s unlikely every Canadian abroad will be able to come home soon.
"We are doing everything in our power to bring the largest number of Canadians home as quickly as possible," said Krystyna Dodds, a Global Affairs Canada spokesperson. "Unfortunately, it will not be possible to ensure the return of all Canadians who wish to come home.”
Edmonton’s Jas Kiran Mehta, a friend of Gill’s, is in New Delhi trying to find a way for her and several relatives travelling with her to get home.
"It’s panic mode," said Mehta. "New Delhi is a very populated city so people are worried that they’re going to run out...of drinking water even. They’re scared. Financially, they’re strained."
Mehta and eight of her relatives, including both her and her husband’s elderly parents, travelled to India to celebrate the first birthday of their son with family.
"It’s really hard when you have a baby that’s trying to run around everywhere and explore the world," she said about the worry that her son will get sick with the virus.
"We just want to be home safely at this point."
For Gill and his mother, being thousands of kilometres away from his father as the global pandemic unfolds leaves them with a helpless feeling.
"It’s very difficult for us being so far away and just trying to do what we can to help them," he said.