As the Indian government carries out ‘Operation Kaveri’ to evacuate thousands of Indians stranded in war-torn Sudan, here is look at a few biggest rescue missions that New Delhi launched over the past several decades

On 15 April 2023, an armed conflict broke out between rival factions of Sudan’s military, namely, the Sudanese Armed Forces and Rapid Support Forces in the capital city of Khartoum. Within three days, tensions escalated and 200 people were dead including one Indian professional who was hit by a stray bullet.

On April 20, at UN Headquarters in New York, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reviewed the deteriorating security situation in Sudan and underscored the importance of “successful diplomacy” to ensure the safety of citizens, including foreign nationals.

Evacuation from Sudan

As the conflict intensified in Sudan, the Indian government initiated its evacuation process and on April 24 ‘Operation Kaveri’ was launched. Indian evacuees were taken to Port Sudan in buses, before being transported to Jeddah in Saudi Arabia via 17 Indian Air Force aircraft and five Indian Navy ship sorties. Indian Air Force flights and commercial flights were deployed to cover the last leg of the journey from Jeddah to India.

The first batch of 360 evacuees returned to New Delhi in a commercial plane on April 26 and as per latest estimates, approximately 3,800 Indian nationals have been evacuated so far. The arduous operation was possible with the logistical support and assistance by the Saudi government which allowed the Indian forces to manage their operations from Jeddah. Besides, Chad, Egypt and the UAE also extended their support towards India’s rescue operations.

Evacuation from Ukraine

The conflict between Russia and Ukraine in February 2022 forced the Indian authorities to evacuate almost 20,000 Indians from Ukraine. As conflict broke out on February 24, the Ukrainian airspace was closed for civilian air traffic. The Government of India launched ‘Operation Ganga’ on February 26 with the first evacuation flight from Bucharest.

In order to establish secure evacuation routes and humanitarian corridors for airlifting Indian residents, Indian authorities coordinated with Romania, Hungary, the Slovak Republic, and Poland. By March 15, over 22,000 Indians, mostly students, were brought back to India in 76 flights run by the IAF and commercial airlines like Air India, Indigo, Spice Jet, and Vistara.

The fact that New Delhi was able to negotiate a quick evacuation with its neighbours was indicative of India’s expanding strategic influence. In addition, India evacuated roughly 150 foreign nationals from 18 different nations in line with India’s philosophy of ‘Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam.’ A similar operation at a smaller scale was carried out in Ukraine in March 2014, as Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine. Special Air India flights were arranged to bring back 1,000 Indians stranded in Ukraine.

Evacuation from Afghanistan

As Taliban took control of Afghanistan on 15 August 2021, ‘Operation Devi Shakti’ was initiated for safe evacuation of stranded Indians and also Afghan individuals on a priority basis.

On 16 August, 40 Indians were airlifted from Kabul in the first phase of evacuation, and within ten day six IAF and Air India flights were sent to safely bring back 438 Indian citizens, 112 Afghan citizens, and 15 other foreigners.

Evacuation during Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic came as a real test of India’s evacuation capabilities as millions of Indian citizens had to be brought back from around the world. By September 2021, nearly 7 million people, including 6 million Indians from over 100 countries, were evacuated by air in different phases in 2020 under the auspices of ‘Operation Vande Bharat.’

In order to facilitate easy air transfer of people at risk, New Delhi signed air bubble pacts with nearly 37 nations, including the US and France enabling special international flights between the airspace of respective signatories. Besides financial support from the Centre and state governments, around INR 33.5 crores from the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) established by the Government of India in 2009, was used to provide support to more than 156,000 Indians.

On May 5, 2020, the Indian government also began almost two-month day long ‘Operation Samudra Setu’ to bring back 3,992 Indian citizens stranded abroad via sea. Additionally, India also facilitated repatriation of over 110,000 foreign nationals stranded in various parts of India to 123 different nations. India’s Covid-19 evacuation operations across the globe testified India’s commitment to humanitarian values.

Evacuation from Middle East and North Africa

Over the last two decades, the Indian government conducted numerous rescue operations in the Middle East and North African subcontinent due to multiple episodes of civil wars and conflicts. The security situation in this part of the world has been unstable, fragile, and dynamic. Tensions quickly escalate into full-scale wars, thereby making it difficult to plan and execute safe evacuations.

In July 2016, as tensions broke out in South Sudan’s capital of Juba, 156 Indians were evacuated back to India from the conflict zone. The then-Minister of state for external affairs Gen V. K. Singh oversaw ‘Operation Sankat Mochan’ on-ground. In 2014-15, three evacuation operations were carried out to rescue Indians stuck in Iraq, Yemen, and Libya. As civil war between the ISIS forces and the Iraqi army intensified in mid-2014, the Indian embassy in Baghdad began evacuating Indian people.

In June that year, 46 Indian nurses held in captivity by Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants in Tikrit for 23 days were evacuated in a heroic and theatrical escape operation from Erbil, Kurdistan via a special Air India plane. In the meantime, repatriation centres were established in Baghdad, Erbil, Karbala, and Najaf. By April 2015, 7000 Indian workers had been evacuated.

On April 3, 2015, ‘Operation Raahat’ was launched to rescue 4,748 Indians who had been caught in the crossfire between Saudi-led coalition forces and Houthi rebels in Yemen. India’s initiative of rescuing 1,900 foreign nationals from 41 nations, including the US, Russia, and Pakistan, was praised world-wide.

As the second civil war in Libya began in 2014, embassy representatives began urging the Indian population to return to India. By the end of December 2015, 3,600 Indians had been evacuated from Libya in stages, using access provided by surrounding nations through land, sea, and air.

Similar evacuation operation from Libya was also carried out in 2011 when the first civil war broke out in February that year. ‘Operation Safe Homecoming’ was authorised by the Indian government to rescue 15,400 Indians based in Libya using the IAF, Indian Navy, commercial aircraft, and passenger ships.

At the same time, as Egypt was engulfed in “Arab uprisings” the Indian government arranged Air India flights to bring 700 Indians home in February and March 2011.

Evacuation from Lebanon

In July 2006, another significant evacuation was conducted from Lebanon as the Israel-Lebanon conflict grew intense.

Under ‘Operation Sukoon,’ the Indian Armed forces were dispatched to rescue 1,800 Indian citizens, 379 Sri Lankan citizens, 69 Nepalese citizens, and 5 Lebanese citizens through air and sea.

Evacuation from Kuwait

Often hailed as “the largest evacuation by air in history”, approximately 1,70,000 Indian citizens were airlifted from Kuwait during the first Gulf war in 1990. On August 2, 1990 Iraqi forces entered Kuwait and within a few days, Saddam Hussein declared it to be Iraq’s 19th province.

On realising the gravity of the situation, India began its evacuation efforts on August 13, and within two months, 176,000 Indians based in Kuwait were flown via Jordan and other Gulf nations in 500 flights. India had also evacuated a Pakistani airline crew that was trapped in Kuwait. The 1990 Kuwait operation was often seen as the most challenging civilian evacuation by India, until the Covid-19 pandemic which called for global evacuation efforts.

Evacuation from Yemen and Iraq

Two more evacuation operations were conducted in the same decade. In 1994, special Air India flights were operated from Mumbai to Sana’a, the capital of Yemen to evacuate roughly 1,700 Indians who were stranded there due to the civil war. Two years later, under the auspices of “Operation Amnesty Airlift” nearly 60,000 Indians in the UAE were airlifted to India in September 1996.

Prior to this, the eight-year-long Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s forced over 10,000 Indians to leave the unstable nation. Some reports claim that at the time, the Indian Embassy in Iraq lacked the necessary resources to manage the burden of the evacuation operations. However, in coordination with the Indian embassy in Kuwait, the government arranged for Special Air India flights to transport 11,000 Indians from Iraq in the 1980s in a phased manner, via Kuwait and other gulf countries.

Evacuation from Burma

One of the earliest evacuations by Indian authorities was coordinated following the Burmese coup d’état in March 1962. The new military regime was hostile towards the Indian community, and nearly 300,000 people of Indian origin returned to India between 1963 and 1970 via chartered ships and land evacuation operations through Northeast India.


Ensuring the safety and well-being of its expatriate communities has been a priority of India’s foreign policy in an increasingly globalised world. The Indian diaspora is larger than ever and geographically dispersed across the globe.

According to latest estimates by the Ministry of External Affairs, 32 million Indian nationals are settled abroad, contributing nearly US $100 billion in terms of remittances.

The safety of these nationals, especially those working in conflict zones, is a major responsibility of the Indian government and India’s dexterity in managing evacuation operations during crisis and conflicts during the last two decades exhibits the importance India places on safety of its citizens.

Evacuating citizens from abroad is an extremely complex mission often carried out in the midst of operational challenges and geopolitical complexities.

***Author is a PhD scholar from JNU’s School of International Studies; views expressed are her own