“I’m stuck in Pune, a three-hour drive from Mumbai,” Mehek Kumar, 42, a permanent resident of Hong Kong, told HKFP by telephone. “My family, my son, my husband and my in-laws are in Hong Kong. It was really difficult for me and my nine year old daughter who are stuck here. “
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Kumar, director of company, one of more than 1,000 Hong Kong residents stranded in India after Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared a nationwide lockdown on March 25 in response to the epidemic from Covid-19.
Kumar arrived in Mumbai in early March for what was to be a ten-day visit, to perform a series of religious rituals.
“Within two days of landing in Mumbai, I injured my back and had a slipped disc and was unable to leave the country,” she said. “Then the lockdown started. With no one to help me, a friend who lives in Pune brought me to her house. I was able to have a few physiotherapy sessions before Modi’s lockout took full effect. Now I cannot get any treatment and I am in so much pain. “
Kumar also said that the internet connection in the city where she was currently staying was inconsistent and that her daughter was having trouble keeping up with her school work online. Her daughter holds an HKSAR passport.
“She misses so much schoolwork and studies,” she said. “My family is waiting for us to come back. We also feel that we are an additional burden on the family we are staying with, as grocery shopping is not easy due to the foreclosure. They also have to feed their families. “
Kumar is one of hundreds of people in a WhatsApp group, created by stranded residents of India, sharing information about the Hong Kong government’s Covid-19 and calling on the authorities for help. Conversations with the Hong Kong government began in the first week of April. So far, they have not received a clear answer.
Schoanna Vaswani, a 25-year-old entrepreneur, also a permanent resident of Hong Kong, is currently stranded in Vadodara, a city in the western state of Gujarat, with her parents.
“We only manage with food ingredients and basic health care because there are extreme shortages,” she told HKFP. “There is only one grocery store and a medical store in our area and we are not allowed out of the house.”
“We started reaching out [to the Hong Kong government] in late March,” said Vaswani. “No response has been made. I don’t think it takes that long to get organized and I don’t think we are treated fairly. Many other countries have already successfully evicted their residents [from India]. “
She said they kept telling her “the exact same thing”, “call 1868 and be patient”, referring to a hotline for Hong Kong residents. Vaswani called the number several times and registered as a stuck resident. She said that she had filled out several forms and given the government all the required information. But she received no response.
Meanwhile, 65 residents returned to Hong Kong from Peru on April 5, with government assistance. They took a charter flight from Lima to London, where they boarded a scheduled flight to Hong Kong. On April 10, 27 Hong Kong nationals were also rescued from Morocco on a government-chartered flight.
The government has also sent charter flights to evacuate residents of the virus-infected cruise ship Princess Diamond to Japan, Wuhan and cities in Hubei Province, the epicenter of the virus.
“It’s just sad to see the differentiation in treatment,” said Vaswani. “If I were in Peru, I would have gone home a long time ago.”
On April 17, Secretary of Security John Lee met with the former president of the Indian Association, Mohan Chugani, to discuss the issue. Chugani tried to help stranded people in India.
Other participants included the chairman of the New People’s Party pro-establishment, Regina Ip, the member of the New People’s Party, Vijay Seth and two other Indian officials.
According to some people stranded in India, at the meeting, Lee promised that support would be offered, but “operational and logistical” difficulties had prolonged the process.
“We had to put a lot of pressure on the government, but it has just started working to bring us back,” says Kumar. “But we still don’t know where we are.”
Another trapped permanent resident, Pranay Doshi, a 32-year-old sales manager who flew to Mumbai to work in late January, told HKFP that he too had “received no response from anyone.”
“I respect the people who work hard to bring us home, and I hope good news and clarity will come out,” he said.
Consul Ajith John Joshua of the Indian consulate in Hong Kong told the HKFP in a statement: “Some foreign governments have asked the Indian government for permission to organize special flights to bring back their nationals from India.”
“If the Hong Kong government sends a similar proposal to the Indian consulate general in Hong Kong, we will process the proposal to obtain the necessary approvals from the Indian government,” he added.
Countries like Britain and Bahrain have evacuated stranded residents and nationals from India. Since Monday, no request has been made by the Hong Kong government, and the consulate has not been informed if or when this will happen, said Joshua.
“The government is dragging its feet,” Jeffrey Andrews, a Hong Kong-born social worker who works with the city’s ethnic minorities, told HKFP. “We are not only talking about residents of Hong Kong, but also people with passports from Hong Kong. The question remains, why was it so easy to bring residents from Wuhan or elsewhere? All other governments do for their citizens. “
Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo also helps the group in its quest.
As stranded Hong Kong residents and nationals continue to hope aid will arrive soon, many can not help but think that they are an afterthought.
“We are not a small group of people,” said Vaswani. “We are more than 1,000 and it is simply shocking to see the government’s inaction. We hope that this will be corrected as soon as possible.”