Airlift of Indians from Kuwait (1990) – Real Story

The airlift of Indians living in Kuwait was carried out by the Indian Government 12 days after the invasion of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990. The evacuation period lasted 59 days from 13thAugust 1990 to 11thOctober 1990.

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The 1990 airlift of Indians from Kuwait is regarded as the largest evacuation of civilians in history. As per the Guinness Book of World Records, Air India became the holder of the record of ‘most people evacuated by a civil airline’ because of the airlift. More than 1,70,000 Indians were evacuated and dropped safely in India.

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The Background of the 1990 Airlift

On August 2, 1990, Iraq invade Kuwait and overran the Kuwaiti armed forces in 2 days and the Royal Family of Kuwait fled to neighboring Saudi Arabia. Subsequently, the Iraqi President Saddam Hussein annexed the Emirate of Kuwait and declared it as the nineteenth province of Iraq.

Many Indians were working in Kuwait and the Gulf region during the time of the invasion. After the annexation of the country, many Indian nationals were left homeless, jobless, and in distress. This is when the Indian Government started evacuating them back to India.

Before the evacuation, the Indian Government laid the groundwork for it. It did not condemn the Iraqi invasion. The then Foreign Minister, I.K. Gujral held talks with President Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime which then allowed the process of evacuation.

The 1990 airlift of Indians from Kuwait was fraught with a lot of difficulties. Military aircraft were initially used for the evacuation, but air-clearances for such aircraft were time consuming and difficult. Hence, the Indian Government decided to use its public-owned civil airline ‘Air India.’ Also, many people in Kuwait did not have papers and relevant documents which were with the employers who had either fled or had been killed. Additionally, many people did not want to leave Kuwait as all their life savings were there. But eventually, all these odds were overcome successfully. A total of 170,000 Indians were evacuated and 488 flights were carried out for it.

The soon-to-be-released Akshay Kumar starrer Bollywood film ‘Airlift’ is based on this incident.

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