NEW DELHI – Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday asked Saudi Arabia’s new king for his support in efforts to evacuate some 4,000 stranded Indians from war-torn Yemen.
Modi expressed his “deep concern about the safety and welfare of the approximately 4,000 Indian citizens in Yemen” when Saudi King Salman telephoned him late evening, the Indian foreign ministry said.
Sajeesh Mathew’s wife, 29-year-old nurse Asha, has worked for three years at the Al-Naqib Hospital in the port city of Aden, scene of heavy fighting on Monday.
“The areas around the hospital are now under the control of the Houthi rebels,” said Mathew, whose wife is one of 35 Indian nurses at the hospital.
“Prime minister briefed his majesty King Salman on India’s evacuation plan and requested his majesty’s support and cooperation,” a ministry statement said, adding that the king assured Modi of “all possible assistance”.
India has moved to airlift its citizens from the Middle East country, which has been plunged into chaos by a Huthi Shiite rebellion that has triggered Saudi-backed air strikes on the capital Sanaa.
Some 4,100 Indians are currently in Yemen, including 3,100 in Sanaa, 500 in Aden and the rest around the country.
The Saudi-led air strikes have hit the main international airport in Sana’a and a renegade troop base, as Arab leaders vow to pummel the rebels until they surrender.
India has also sent three navy and two passenger ships to help evacuate its workers and other citizens, many of whom are nurses from the southern state of Kerala.
India last week asked all its nationals to leave Yemen, where deadly fighting has sent tensions in the Middle East soaring.
Ruben Jacob Chandy heeded the call, taking a scheduled flight out of Sanaa and arriving back in the Keralan capital Thiruvananthapuram on Monday, with a handful of other Indians who escaped the fighting.
“The situation is critical,” said Chandy. “The Saudis are carrying out a lot of air targeting – it starts from 6 p.m. until almost 6 am”
An Indian navy patrol vessel involved in anti-piracy operations was heading for Aden, and would be joined by two more navy ships. Two passenger ships with the capacity to carry 1,100 people had also set sail from India, Akbaruddin said.
Indians returning from Yemen said the situation, especially in Aden, was grave.
“They cannot go out of their residences. Many are running out of water and food. There is no way they can go out and procure the essentials,” said Lijo George, an IT worker who returned to Kerala on Monday from Sanaa.
Speaking from the Military Hospital in Sanaa, paramedic Ranjith Cheerakathil said he and his wife, a nurse, were among the few who had decided to stay. Most of the hospital’s 240 Indian staff were waiting for a flight to leave.
“Most of the operations in the hospital will be shut down when they leave. There will not be anybody to care for those who suffer injuries in the attack,” Cheerakathil said by telephone.
“This is cruel. My conscience does not allow me to leave them like that.”