Tuesday 24 March 2020 5:41 AM UTC
LONDON March 24: A group of 19 Indian students, who had sought refuge within the Indian High Commission premises in London demanding to be put on an India-bound flight despite travel restrictions back home in view of the coronavirus pandemic, were moved to a hotel on Sunday evening.
The students, mostly from Telangana, had initially refused offers of accommodation arranged with the help of Indian diaspora groups as India’s ban on travellers from the UK and Europe remains in place until the end of this month.
“We have finally reasoned with them and organised for them to take taxis to a hotel in west London,” said a community leader who has been working with the High Commission on arrangements for the stranded students.
They had been placed within a quarantined space, which houses the visa and consular section within the Indian High Commission building in Aldwych, central London.
Many of them had booked flight tickets back to India for later this month, in time for what is usually an Easter break period at universities in the UK.
However, India issued an updated travel advisory earlier this week, saying no travellers would be allowed entry into India after 1200 GMT on March 18 until March 31.
It triggered a last-minute dash for flights as many students took to social media to seek assistance from the Indian High Commission as their travel plans went awry in the wake of the rapid spread of the pandemic.
Diaspora groups had been working for days to try and reason with a large group of students, initially around 58, who had arrived at the doorstep of the Indian High Commission in London with their bags, demanding transit to India.
“There simply are no flights and we cannot be putting lives in danger at this stage.
They were allowed entry into the High Commission building and provided food, water and temporary shelter, but some are now just camping out with their bags and baggage,” the community leader said on Saturday.
The Indian mission has introduced an online registry system and has also shared contact information for a number of Indian diaspora groups trying to assist with board and lodging for panic-stricken students and Indian nationals.
Such students are being advised to seek assistance from the UK Home Office’s Coronavirus Immigration Helpline.
Meanwhile, the Home Office has said it recognises the current situation is “exceptional” and will not take any compliance action against students or employees who are unable to attend their studies or work due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The National Indian Students and Alumni Union UK (NISAU-UK), a representative body for Indian students in the UK, has been fielding calls and urging students not to panic, support each other and take necessary precautions to be safe.
As the UK went into complete shutdown from Saturday, universities across the UK have said they are mindful of the plight of international students, many of whom have nowhere to go as campuses close down.
Universities Minister Michelle Donelan said: “I am pleased Universities UK has confirmed institutions will be flexible and do all they can to support students to progress to higher education”.
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