CHENNAI: The plight of 783 Indian fishermen stranded in Iran hangs in the balance as the Indian Embassy and Ministry of External affairs are apparently focussing on evacuating students and pilgrims.
After Express highlighted their plight, who are at the mercy of Iranian boat owners and faced with dwindling supplies, the families of the men were hoping for immediate action from the Indian government. However, fishermen representatives are claiming that Indian officials in Iran are yet to respond.
Captain Johnson Charles, secretary for Meenavar Orunganaipu Sangam, said the fishermen had been informed by embassy officials that their focus was on students and pilgrims in Tehran for now. This comes in the backdrop of Civil Aviation Minister (in-charge) Hardeep Singh Puri informing that evacuation is being planned in consultation with the Union Health Ministry and the Government of Iran. Fishermen representatives feel that this puts the fishermen, including 450 from Tamil Nadu, at high risk as the Persian Gulf nation has reported the highest number of cases after China.
Twenty-seven-year-old Sahaya Askar from Kanniyakumari, who is stuck along with around 200 Indian fishermen on Chiruyeh in Hormozgan Province in Iran, said that despite several messages to Embassy, there had been no response. “On Sunday, when one of the fishermen contacted the Embassy, they were told that preference would be given to students and pilgrims as of now,” he said. “They don’t consider our existence despite our State sending a plea to rescue us. We are running out of supplies and the boat owners want us to go back to the sea. We are afraid of being infected by the virus,” said Askar.
Johnson, who has been liaising with the State government, however, said the Embassy did conduct a health check-up in Kish Island, off the southern coast of Iran. “Rather than being sympathetic, the officials have asked the fishermen to go back to fishing for Iranian boat owners. No help is forthcoming from the Indian embassy in Iran,” said Johnson.
When Express contacted one of the Embassy emergency numbers, the official asked to contact the landline number. However, no official could be contacted. Meanwhile, Johnson was unsure if the Indian Embassy in Iran will have information about the fishermen because they had UAE visas issued by their agents. Since UAE has an agreement that fish caught in Iran can be sold in Dubai, these fishermen are hired from UAE on visit visas by Iranian boat owners, he said. “We are unsure whether the Indian Embassy in UAE or the one in Tehran is accountable. But the main concern of the government should be to rescue the Indians,” said Johnson.