Coronavirus outbreak in Iran: Kashmiri students, short of funds and struggling to get home, get cold shoulder from Indian authorities

Every day, Kashmiri students in Iran awake to worried calls from family and friends back home who have heard news of an outbreak.

Quratulain Rehbar February 28, 2020 16:20:12 IST
Coronavirus outbreak in Iran: Kashmiri students, short of funds and struggling to get home, get cold shoulder from Indian authorities
  • Every day, Kashmiri students in Iran awake to worried calls from family and friends back home who have heard news of a coronavirus outbreak

  • As per recent reports, Iran has recorded the highest number of deaths outside China, with at least 139 cases coming to light

  • On Thursday, the Srinagar deputy commissioner posted on Twitter the helpline number for students stranded in Iran. But students said calls are going unanswered

Kashmiri student Masooma panicked when she heard her university in Tehran had suspended all classes till April after two deaths in Qum due to the deadly coronavirus. All she could think about was getting ticket home. After spending a sleepless night, she spent Rs 25,000 on a flight tickee. Some of her friends only managed to get tickets in March and April. Then Masooma, and another 150 Kashmiri students at her university, were shocked to learn all flights to India had been cancelled.

Masooma and her friends have been trying to contact the Indian embassy and the Ministry of External Affairs so that they can be evacuated from Iran. The Kashmiri students have confined themselves to their rooms for four days. Every day, they awake to worried calls from family and friends back home who have heard news of an outbreak in Iran.

Coronavirus outbreak in Iran Kashmiri students short of funds and struggling to get home get cold shoulder from Indian authorities

Representational image. PTI

'Short of funds'

Following the coronavirus outbreak in China's Wuhan province — which experts are now calling a pandemic — Iran is just of the recent countries that have been badly hit, with many of its neighbours closing their borders. Authorities are attempting to prevent the disease from spreading and trying to clamp down on rumours amid a panicking populace.

Among them are over 300 students from Kashmir at different universities and colleges. Many said they have run out of funds after booking multiple flight tickets home, all of which have been cancelled. More than 200 students have spent around Rs 25,000 to 30,000 on tickets and have not yet received refunds. A student, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said another big hurdle is that their families cannot transfer money to them. He added that there is also a shortage of masks and sanitizers.

“We can't even get a face mask from the pharmacy, let alone the N95 masks,” he said. But there is a silver living. The university is providing medical check-ups for students and providing them one meal a day.

Quraishia, a 20-year-old from Shiraz University, said earlier she thought the coronavirus news was fake, but began to worry after universities suddenly shuttered. She said after pharmacies ran short of masks, she, along with 50 other Kashmiri students, restricted themselves to campus out of a fear of being infected. Some locked themselves up in their rooms after hearing about cases in Tehran and Isfahan, which is 481 km away from Shiraz.

Students complained of a "cold shoulder" from the Indian Embassy despite sending them hundreds of emails/ Quraishia, whose parents are repeatedly calling her, said she doesn't know what to tell them or how to react.

India issued a new travel advisory on 26 February requesting the public to avoid travel to Iran, Korea and Italy. People flying to India from the Republic of Korea, Iran and Italy or having such a travel history since 10 February, may be quarantined for 14 days after they arrive in India, the advisory added.

The World Health Organisation has declared the coronavirus an epidemic and said it is a public health emergency of international concern. WHO officials will travel to Iran this week to evaluate the situation.

Iran deputy health minister and an MP have tested positive for the coronavirus. As per recent reports, Iran has recorded the highest number of deaths outside China. At least 139 cases have come to light in Iran, with 63 in Qum (the highest), 26 in Tehran, and 19 cases in Gilan.

However, students said that Qum, the city at the centre of the outbreak and a pilgrimage place, remains open. But students visiting Qum aren't being allowed to return due to fears of the virus spreading. On Thursday, the Srinagar deputy commissioner posted on Twitter the helpline number for students stranded in Iran. But students said calls to the helpline are going unanswered.

 

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