An instruction manual (SOP) for Evacuation
In 1986, South Yemen was being engulfed in a civil war that threatened the lives of thousands of foreigners living there. While Britain, France and the Soviet Union coordinated to jointly evacuate their nationals, the 850 Indians in the country were forced to wait for several more days until New Delhi finally managed to convince a merchant ship to pick them up.
Fast forward 30 years in April 2015, when Yemen was on fire, the Indian government successfully conducted Operation Raahat to evacuate almost 5,000 Indians and nearly 1,000 citizens from 41 other countries.
India has now extensive experience conducting evacuation operations;India has conducted more than 30 evacuation operations across Africa, Asia, and Europe, including its largest-ever civilian airlift of 110,000 people from the Persian Gulf in 1990
Rising Challenges in Protecting a Growing Diaspora
- However, given the lack of any formal doctrine or emergency plan, the success of India’s missions has mostly been due to the individual sacrifices of officials from its diplomatic corps, flagship carrier, and armed forces.
- As more than 11 million Indians now reside abroad, and more than 20 million travel overseas each year, the government will no longer be able to rely on heroic, ad hoc efforts and quick-fix solutions.
- Lingering and emerging challenges, including a lack of standard operating procedures and inadequate coordination, will only intensify as evacuation operations become larger in scope and public scrutiny increases.
Building on India’s Experience and Expanding Capacity – Making of a Manual
Studying India’s history, best practices and lessons learned will help institutionalise them and avoid the need to reinvent the wheel every time a crisis erupts. By supporting policy-oriented research at universities and think tanks to document the memory of senior officials, the government would also facilitate the transmission of their expertise to younger officials.
- The Indian government should employ significant diplomatic and military resources to assess its evacuation operations and institutionalize best practices;
- Develop standard operating procedures, including emergency doctrines through an inter-ministerial committee to establish clear chain of command and division of competencies.
- Identify regional support bases, assembly points and routes for evacuation; develop country-specific warden systems to communicate with expatriates; and establish evacuation priority and embarkation criteria.
- train and prepare its diplomatic cadre to operate in hostile environments, and increase coordination with other governments;
- Conduct frequent evacuation simulations and emergency drills; and create rapid reaction teams of Indian security personnel to be deployed to protect diplomatic staff and installations abroad.
- assign a greater role to the armed forces, strengthening their capacity to plan and deploy in tandem with civilian authorities;
- direct the military to develop a non-combatant evacuation (NEO) doctrine, designate the Integrated Defence Staff as the nodal organisation to improve inter-services and civil-military coordination, direct the services to conduct more multilateral NEO exercises, and adapt military modernisation plans to increase capacity for out-of-area deployment and evacuation.
- establish a permanent coordinating mechanism that facilitates communication and joint operations across national, regional, and international levels and bureaucratic and military levels;
- designate a civilian air reserve fleet for evacuation operations to reduce the burden on Air India, whose staff also requires specific training;
- explore new communication technologies to develop consular platforms to identify, monitor, and contact citizens abroad, offering them real-time updates on evacuation procedures; and
- Embed media representatives more frequently in such missions, reassure the diaspora by ensuring that high-level political representatives are personally engaged, and avoid raising expectations by clearly distinguishing Indian citizens from people of Indian