Srinagar: A majority of the students from Jammu and Kashmir who were studying in different universities and colleges in Iran and were anxiously waiting to be evacuated have now been brought back from Tehran and other cities via two flights, on March 14 and March 15.
The COVID-19 epidemic in Iran has claimed more than 800 lives and infected over 11,000 people.
An MBBS student from Kashmir studying in a medical university in Tehran has said that he was among 300 other students from Jammu and Kashmir who were brought back in a flight from Tehran on Sunday.
“We were taken to a medical facility in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan from New Delhi where we are presently under quarantine. We will be kept here for a period of 14 days before returning home,” he said.
He said a majority of the students from the state studying in Iran have now been evacuated. There are about 30 more students who are hoping to be brought back in the coming days, he added.
Most of the students studying in Tehran had said that they wanted to return home as soon as possible.
“All the students from Kashmir studying here are worried and want to return home sooner. We have been restricted to the dormitories of our campuses although the Iranian government here is making all efforts to keep us safe,” one of the Kashmiri students pursuing a medical degree at the Tehran University of Medical Sciences had told The Wire before the students’ evacuation had commenced.
“The Indian embassy here has been late in addressing the concern of students here who want to return home sooner. They are now carrying out tests and we will have to wait for some more time. We are also told that the pilgrims will be given first priority of getting airlifted from here,” he had said.
Students said their parents in Kashmir were very worried and had been making frantic calls and appeals to the state and central government authorities to take immediate steps to facilitate the return of their children. “But all these past few weeks we didn’t see any urgency from the authorities or the Indian embassy here to bring us back,” he had said.
Another Kashmiri student pursuing his studies at Tehran University of Medical Sciences had said that every student from Jammu and Kashmir wanted to return home as soon as possible as the virus was spreading across Iran. She said that there were about 250 students from Jammu and Kashmir who were studying in different parts of Iran and wished to return to India as soon as possible.
“We finally got screened at the Indian embassy the other day. We have to wait for a period of 3 to 4 days for the results to come and then the embassy will hopefully facilitate and arrange some commercial flights for us,” said Masooma Rizvi, a Kashmiri student studying at Tehran University of Medical Sciences, said before the students were evacuated.
Rizvi said Kashmiri students in Iran and their anxious parents back in Kashmir had repeatedly urged the state and central government since February 27 to have students evacuated from Iran. “I hope our travel back to home is facilitated faster now,” she had said.
Another Kashmiri student at the varsity said the process of their return was initially slow but was hastened after they were screened by a team of doctors.
On Thursday, the external affairs minister S. Jaishankar had told the Lok Sabha that the government was planning to facilitate the evacuation of Kashmiri students stuck in Iran at the earliest.
“I visited Srinagar recently and took the initiative to meet the parents of some of the students who are in Iran. Their anxiety at this time is completely understandable. I shared with them in details, the ground situation and sought their understanding,” the minister had said in the Lok Sabha on Thursday.
“I assured them that the government would facilitate the earliest possible return of their children and I would like to share with the house that the sampling of these students has begun today,” he had added.
On Monday, the External affairs minister had, in a surprise visit to Srinagar, interacted with the families of Kashmiri students and pilgrims stranded in Iran.
“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,” the minister had tweeted after meeting worried family members and parents of Kashmiri students in Iran.
The students who have been recently brought back from Iran said there are about 400 religious pilgrims who have been evacuated and nearly 1,000 pilgrims from J&K are yet to be brought back from Iran.
— Dr. S. Jaishankar (@DrSJaishankar) March 10, 2020
The authorities in Iran have closed schools, cancelled events and also cancelled main weekly Friday prayers after the first deaths were announced from COVID-19 last month. However, despite these measures, the official number of deaths and infections has continued to rise, according to reports.
“Sadly, 85 people infected with the COVID-19 disease have died in the past 24 hours,” health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour was quoted in an AFP report on Friday.
“Across the country, at least 1,289 infected people have been added to the list of confirmed patients,” the spokesman said.
Majid Maqbool is a journalist and editor based in Srinagar.