Indian envoy to Tajikistan Viraj Singh. Photograph:( WION )
India's Ambassador Viraj Singh also talked about the repatriation of Indians, especially students and said, "At the moment, two Air India special flights have been scheduled from Dushanbe to Delhi on 27th and 28th May 2020." 1500 Indians, of which 1287 are students are in Tajikistan.
India has provided humanitarian aid Hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol tablets amidst the COVID crisis. Speaking exclusively to our Principal Diplomatic Correspondent Sidhant Sibal from Dushanbe, India's Ambassador Viraj Singh also talked about the repatriation of Indians, especially students and said, "At the moment, two Air India special flights have been scheduled from Dushanbe to Delhi on 27th and 28th May 2020." 1500 Indians, of which 1287 are students are in Tajikistan.
WION: How is the Indian mission reaching to stranded Indians in the country? Any plans of repatriation?
Viraj Singh: The size of Indian diaspora in Tajikistan is approximately 1500 people including 1287 Indian students pursuing medical education at Avicenna Tajik State Medical University (ATSMU), Dushanbe. The embassy is in constant touch with the Indian Diaspora and especially with the students. We are well aware of their concerns and have been rendering all possible assistance to them during this ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic. I have personally met the representative of Indian students studying in ATSMU and other responsible faces. The embassy has provided some medicines to be used by the Indian students if need be. Till date, all Indians are in good mental and physical health. As far as repatriation is concerned, you may be aware that the Government of India is facilitating the return of Indian nationals stranded abroad on compelling grounds in a phased manner. These evacuation flights are planned in a phased manner to ensure the safety of Indians abroad and in India. We have created a database of all Indians in Tajikistan willing to be repatriated to India. The same is being shared with the Ministry of External Affairs of India. At the moment, two Air India special flights have been scheduled from Dushanbe to Delhi on 27th and 28th May 2020. We expect some students to be evacuated on the same. It would take time to repatriate all the desiring Indian citizens from Tajikistan. We have requested the students and other Indians willing to be repatriated to exercise patience. They have been advised to take all necessary precautions and maintain social distancing, use masks, sanitizers and handwash frequently and avoid unnecessary travel. The SOP issued by Ministry of Home Affairs, to be adhered to by individuals before and after arrival in India has been shared with them, so, that they are prepared for the evacuation process.
WION: How are India and Tajikistan cooperating on COVID pandemic? EAM spoke to Tajik FM. Afghanistan was also mentioned by EAM in his tweet.
Viraj Singh: Tajikistan is our extended neighbour and a strategic partner. Recently, India as a gesture of its support to the friendly people and the Government of Tajikistan provided Hydroxychloroquine and paracetamol tablets as humanitarian aid. On 06 May 2020, Hon’ble EAM Dr S. Jaishankar had a very warm and friendly conversation with the Tajik Foreign Minister, H.E. Mr Sirojiddin Muhriddin. They discussed medical cooperation in response to Covid19 challenge and reviewed various aspects of bilateral relations.
WION: Have we shared any Indian containment model or anything to learn from Tajikistan's containment model.
Viraj Singh: The strategy of most of the governments across the world has been to contain the spread of the Covid19 and flatten the curve. In this aspect, India and Tajikistan have pretty much adopted a similar strategy. Tajikistan closed all its airports and land borders in March, approximately the same time when India also closed its airports and borders. All schools, colleges and universities have been shut down; promotion to next class based on scores obtained till now and online education is being promoted. Non-food markets remain shut. It is mandatory to wear a mask in public. The population of Tajikistan is 9.3 million and most of the country is mountainous. So, they have not gone for a complete lockdown as in India and some other countries. Ministry of External Affairs of India conducted a Webinar on 'Managing COVID 19 Pandemic- Experience and Best Practices of India' from April 27-May 1 2020 by PGIMER, Chandigarh under its India Technical and Educational Cooperation. The same was offered to all ITEC partner countries including Tajikistan. More than 90 delegates from various partner countries benefited from the same.
WION: How has the ground situation in Tajikistan changed, how have Indian diplomats faring?
Viraj Singh: The Covid19 pandemic has impacted a large number of countries including Tajikistan. Markets and institutions are closed. All airports and borders are sealed. People are working from home. There is excessive pressure on the Health system and then there are Indian nationals who wish to be repatriated. At the moment, as Head of the Mission, the top two priorities for me is to ensure the safety of Mission’s staff, both Indians and locals and repatriation of Indians. We have taken several measures including a rotational system of working and working from home, exercising self-isolation if need be. Nobody ever imagined that Diplomacy would involve wearing masks and gloves and using hand sanitizers even at your office. A large part of the work is done telephonically and electronically. Gone are the days when face to face meetings using interpreters were frequent. This is where knowledge of the local language- Tajik and Russian- play an important role and Indian diplomats have been able to use their language skills effectively in times like these. Video conferences are the new normal and digitalization is the future. And I must say that our diplomats have stood up to these challenges and embraced digitalization fully. They are constantly upgrading and adjusting to this new mode of working. Ministry of External Affairs of India has always been at the forefront of using technology to reach out to people- home and abroad. We see the same trend continuing.