Nepal | July 15, 2020

Nepal Airlines brings home 11 passengers from Canberra

Hundreds continue to wait in Australia for the government to commence repatriation flights

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While the government has already submitted the details of hundreds of Nepalis seeking immediate evacuation from Australia, a Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) aircraft returned from Canberra today carrying just 11 Nepali nationals.

“It was basically a rescue flight,” said Sushil Ghimire, executive chairperson of NAC.

While he said the rules did not permit to divulge the details of the passengers, he informed that some of the passengers had medical issues, while others had family emergencies.

Kedar Bahadur Adhikari, secretary of Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation, however, informed that the NAC flight had returned with one cancer patient and others were government officials.

It has to be noted that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) on Monday had submitted a list of 24,148 Nepalis across 30 different destinations that need to be rescued urgently.

The list, including the details of around 1,300 Nepalis seeking evacuation from Australia, was submitted to the COVID-19 Crisis Management Centre (CCMC).

“The passengers had received prior approval from the Australian government and they were rescued in coordination between the Australian and Nepal government,” he said.

“While airlines are not allowed to bring back passengers on chartered flights, the Australian government permitted today’s flight due to less number of passengers.”

It is quite difficult to get permission for a large number of passengers, Adhikari added.

“As the flight was chartered by the embassy and the passengers had paid for the round trip, it would be unfair to bring back Nepalis in the same flight,” he said.

As per Adhikari, the Australian ambassador for Nepal had strictly said the flag carrier could not bring Nepalis on such repatriation flights to Australia. “That is why we didn’t bring Nepalis even on early flights,” he said, adding that bringing home Nepalis on such flights would tarnish NAC’s image as well.

Moreover, the Canberra airport does not have customs and immigration services, which is why the Australian government does not allow to operate repatriation flights from there, he explained.

According to NAC Chairperson Ghimire, the government had coordinated with the Australian Embassy in Nepal for the flight that brought home the 11 passengers for free. “We just followed the instructions from the MoFA,” he added.

Bharat Raj Poudel, spokesperson for MoFA, did not take repeated calls seeking comment on this matter.

A source at the Australian Embassy, on the other hand, informed that their only role in the rescue flight was in helping the passengers check-in at the airport. “The rescue flight was basically in coordination between the Nepal government and Nepali Embassy located in Australia,” the source said.

While the 11 passengers that were brought back today did not have to pay a single paisa, those awaiting government rescue will have to cover their own airfare and other travel expenses. Adhikari claimed that the government is working on the modality for the repatriation flights that is expected to commence from June 10. In the first phase, the government has listed around 24,000 passengers who will be repatriated from 30 destinations.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on June 10, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.

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