Six days after Onmanorama brought to light the plight of Indians living in prisons in the Sultanate of Oman after completing their sentence, the Indian Embassy repatriated 48 of them back to India on Thursday.
Remaining 24 people will be brought back next week, Onmanorama has learnt from reliable sources.
Thursday’s repatriation exercise was facilitated by an Air India Express flight to Chennai. It ferried 72 other passengers under the India government’s Vande Bharat Mission (the exercise to bring back citizens stranded in different parts of the world during the COVID-19 pandemic).
All the 48 people have been shifted to a quarantine centre at a military camp in Chennai.
They will be allowed to go home if they do not show any COVID-19 symptoms after 14 days.
Fourteen of them are from Kerala, while the remaining hail from Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Uttarakhand and Delhi.
“We have been provided single room accommodation, food and medical care,” Rohit (name changed for privacy reasons) told Onmanorama over phone from the quarantine centre.
He said the flight touched down at the Chennai International Airport at 6.30 pm on Thursday. “The emigration formalities took more than 10 hours to complete. We were taken to the quarantine centre at 4am,” he said.
Relatives of those who returned sounded extremely happy.
"I just received a call from my husband from Chennai. This is a perfect Eid gift for me. Onmanorama report had prodded the Indian embassy officials to speed up the repatriation," said Hannah (name changed to protect identity) on the arrival of her husband Hasib (name changed to protect identity).
Onmanorama report - ‘Tale of Indians in Oman jails: Let off by courts, let down by Indian mission’ - on July 24 had described the ordeal of Hasib and others, who were forced to stay in jails in Oman despite completing their term.
Social workers in Oman had alleged that the repatriation was delayed because of the non-issuance of travel documents by the Indian embassy.
The embassy had denied the charges and told that it was in touch with Oman officials to speed up repatriation.
Indian government has been maintaining that its missions abroad will provide consular services and facilitate the repatriation of prisoners by issuing necessary travel documents and the embassy officials will visit the local jails and detention centers regularly to check the health of Indian citizens.
But prison inmates had told Onmanorama that Indian embassy officials did not do any such things. “They did not take quick actions. They speeded up the procedure this time only because of media intervention,” said Rohit.