All 1,500 Sri Lankan Buddhist pilgrims stranded in India are back home

Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, March 22: All the 1,500 Sri Lankan Buddhist pilgrims stranded in India due to the coronavirus have returned home. The last group of 48 pilgrims flew to Colombo by a dedicated SriLankan Airlines flight that left the Indira Gandhi International Airport at 5.10am today. India closed its airports for inward commercial passenger flights for a week from today.

Earlier in the day, another dedicated SriLankan Airlines aircraft left Chennai for Colombo at 3am with 97 Buddhist pilgrims on board. This takes the total of pilgrims flying back home to 145 on Sunday, the Sri Lankan High Commission here said in a media release.

On 21 March, 298 pilgrims left New Delhi for Colombo by SriLankan Airlines flight UL196. which departed Indira Gandhi International Airport at 19:31 hrs.

When the Government of Sri Lanka announced a temporary closure of airports in the island for inward commercial passenger aircraft, there were approximately 1500 Sri Lankan Buddhist pilgrims visiting holy Buddhist sites across India. All these pilgrims have since left India, earlier by scheduled commercial flights and later by dedicated SriLankan Airlines aircraft that were operated to bring back stranded pilgrims.

On 21 and 22 March, The Sri Lankan High Commission in New Delhi and the Deputy High Commission in Chennai, in consultation with the Ministry of Foreign Relations and the Ministry of Buddha Sasana, closely coordinated with the SriLankan Airlines offices in New Delhi and Chennai as well as tour groups themselves to facilitate the return of the stranded pilgrims. These efforts included re-arranging the tickets of the pilgrims as well as assistance provided at the international airports in Delhi and Chennai.

The media release said: "The High Commission of Sri Lanka in New Delhi and the Deputy High Commission of Sri Lanka in Chennai wish to place on record their deep appreciation to the relevant entities of the Government of India, including the Ministry of External Affairs and airport authorities, Sri Lankan Airlines offices in Delhi and Chennai, and the venerable monks residing in Sri Lankan Buddhist temples and Buddhist pilgrimage sites in India as well as the Sri Lanka Buddhist Pilgrims’ Rest in New Delhi for their assistance in successfully returning the stranded pilgrims to Sri Lanka."

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