Indian students and citizens visiting friends and family abroad have encountered an unfortunate fate, when they could not make it back to India before the lockdown was announced in March and all international flights were cancelled. Now the lockdown has been extended till 3 May, to keep out any risk of importing the virus into the country by citizens or foreigners, travelling from the rest of the world.
The Times of India reported that India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) has informed the Supreme Court that there are around 13 million Indians living abroad, including NRIs and students. In the process of minimising any risks of transmitting this disease by the passengers coming from Covid-19 stricken areas, they have decided not to evacuate Indian citizens in flights repatriating foreign nationals from India. This answer came after a plea was filed in the Supreme Court seeking direction to the Centre to evacuate a group of nearly 380 Indian students stranded in the UK without any delay. But the government has urged that all Indians to stay put wherever they are, and the embassies have been empowered to help the stranded Indians in every possible way, including with accommodation, health and medical support.
In the UK, there are reportedly about 400,000 Indian nationals, including about 50,000 students. The UK government has now extended visas till May 31 and has issued necessary guidelines. But all is not good with every student, awaiting to go back to India, to the comfort and security of their family.
Sameer Dhore from Mumbai, studies in the University of Greenwich and is also the President of Indian Society. He is in his second year with a paid job which is a part of his degree. Speaking to Asian Voice, he said, “I stay in a flat-share and have given my three months’ notice. But the caretaker of the house, wants me out as soon as possible. As students, we are running short of food and we want to go back to our families. If I am infected with Covid-19, I will have no one to look after me. Even if I am in the hospital, no one from the family will be able to reach out to me and this accommodation will not take me back. Where will I go then? Students who are new here, many of them are not being allowed by their flatmates to even step out for grocery in fear of bringing germs back home from shops. How will they survive?
“My rent is not on freeze. Same with many other students. Many landlords feel that we will leave without serving our notice, so they are not ready to give the deposits back.”
Speaking highly of his university, Sameer added, “My university is doing a lot. They have approached the issue very professionally. If you cant go out for grocery, they are even bringing that to you in 48-72 hours. NISAU is also helping us with a helpline and providing many more required assistances.”
There have been Indian students who have been relying on part-time work and the money earned through that to survive in this country, while families provided with rent. But now many have had families unable to extend any financial support, due to failing businesses or job losses. This has resulted into students having as less as £30 to survive the whole month.
Naveen Naidu, who is a student at the Edinburgh Napier University, came from Hyderabad in India in January and lives in a private flat-share with three other people. He said, “UK does not care about the international students who are stuck here unfortunately. We came here to study and not work. Our university is closed and has not helped much after this closure. We can’t even go back home. Landlords are harassing us for rent and I have had to borrow money from friends to pay my rent and bills, which is around £350. Indian and Pakistani grocery shops are hiking up prices for food items, which is not the same for big supermarkets like Tesco. We are left on our own to fend for ourselves.”
Vignesh Karthik, national officer, member of the founding team of NISAU, an umbrella organisation for India and India-related student societies in the UK, is doing his PhD from King’s College London since 2019. Speaking to Asian Voice, he said, “NISAU is getting many queries including from non students, some are emergency queries, which we are re-directing towards the High Commission of India. We are dealing with general queries at the moment. The main problem with many of the students is that they rely on part-time work for living in the UK. Many are homesick, which is understandable. So they really want to go back to their family. We don’t want to advice people on the travel situation. But we are doing events online to provide company to people called ‘home away from home’, conducting quizzes, career and brand building workshops- whatever possible to keep students engaged. Any emails written to us, our response time, unless it is urgent, is usually 24 hrs.”