Untold Stories of the Kuwait ‘Airlift’ – A Goan View

Indian film ‘Airlift’ based on a true story from the 1990 Iraq invasion of Kuwait is sure to revive some old memories of those who were there in Kuwait during the time.

According to media, the film released on 26th Jan 2016 is completely short in its research; incidentally it has been banned from cinemas in Kuwait for undisclosed reasons.

Akshay Kumar in 'Airlift' movie

The film starring Akshay Kumar follows RanjitKatyal (Akshay Kumar), a Kuwait-based businessman, who carries out the biggest civil operation of evacuation of Indians based in Kuwait.

For many Indians in Kuwait who survived the ordeal, this is almost like a trip down memory lane…


Agnello Fernandes, now a Vice-President of one of Kuwait’s reputed stock markets company recalled how the invasion was a very unfortunate incident in Kuwait’s history.

Carmo Santos - Goan businessman in Kuwait

Carmo Santos, a Goan businessman in Kuwait, sheltered and fed families that, after having sold their household goods to fund their trip out of Kuwait, were stranded at the Iraq-Turkish border and had to return to Kuwait penniless.

“I distributed hundreds of kilos of basmati rice and flour that were in my godown, and even gave money to those who had little or none,” says Santos in one of his interviews to the online Kolkatta Mirror. “Many, including Kuwaiti locals, sought me out to return the money after the war ended, and are still very grateful.”

For many Indians, it was an escape all right, but not always to victory. Santos, who stayed back in Kuwait, got advertisements placed in Goan newspapers like OHerald and Navhind Times, asking those who had returned to Goa to send him copies of their passports, sponsorship and employment details, so that he could help them get their jobs back in Kuwait. “Their families were in turmoil over loss of money and income, marriages were breaking down,” Santos says.


Recalling the days, Santos further adds, “Atleast 10,000 to 15,000 Indians were left behind in Kuwait long after the invasion until Kuwait was liberated on 26th February 1991. I witnessed kidnappings, rapes, murders, hangings, loot, fires, bombs, etc. During the invasion I travelled to Iraq 16 times, 10 times to Baghdad and 6 times to Basra with friends in my 1983 model Caprice car. I used to contact my sponsors in Switzerland over the phone from Baghdad hotels and my family in Goa giving them updates on the developments time to time.”

“I fought with late Mathew Kurivilla and Indira Sharma because the Indian Red Cross Society’s food and medicines including baby-milk distribution was not done properly. I also had tussles with Indian Embassy officials who forced poor laborers from Chennai, Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Punjab to leave the country against their will. I pleaded with the officials to issue passports to those who wished to stay back, and issue travel documents to those who wanted go to India.”

Veronica Fernandes - A social activist & writer

Carmo Santos also helped arrange travel of some Bangladeshis to India, and issue documents to one German and a Portuguese national to travel to India as Indians so that they could save their lives. “The Portuguese guy is in USA now with his wife and two sons and still thanks me for his safe passage,” recalls Santos adding, “I helped many Indians, locals, Eygptians and Palestinians who were in need of financial, travel or food support, medical assistance, burials of human remains, etc.”

Carmo Santos was involved in helping thousands of homeless Indians regardless of their religion alongwith Bishop Francis Micallef (Malta), Fr. Dominic Santa Maria (Goa/UK), Fr. John Pinto (Mangalore) and Fr.Wendell of Philliphines.

Late Mr. H.S. Vedi was there till Kuwait was liberated and worked tirelessly with late Mathew Kurivilla, Mrs. Indira Sharma and Sunny Mathews, helping many people leave safely.


Talking about the ‘Airlift’ movie and media reviews about it, Carmo Santos says, “Sunny Mathews is portrayed in the film credits as a hero for ‘airlifting’ 170,000 Indians which is a big bluff and blunder on the part of film makers.”

“Sunny Mathews must have helped his Keralites close aides and family, definitely not other Indians. Infact, some people were involved in confiscating food items, medicines and baby-food meant for Indians to the Palestinans and Iraqis. I was surprised when I found the baby-milk in one of the pharmacies in Abbasiya-Kuwait owned by a Palestinian for sale. Also, I was shocked to see Indian baby milk and MOH-Kuwait baby milk being sold in Baghdad Pharmacies.”

“The whole evacuation of 170,000 stranded Indians was arranged ‘Free of Charge’ by our Indian Government under the leadership of late Prime Minister Shri Chandra Shekhar. The credit goes to our Indian Government, Air-India for the record number of flights to evacuate people, Indian Air Force, Indian Embassy in Baghdad, and Indian Embassy in Kuwait.”

“Some people, in the name of repatriation, collected Iraqi Dinars 250/- per head as bus fare for Salmiya-Kuwait to Baghdad camps and pocketed the money alongwith their henchmen. Later, they travelled as big-bosses on the same ship which the Indian Government had sent to Kuwait.”

At a Red Cross camp in Jordan, Goa-based photographer Alex Fernandes’ cab was stopped at the camp’s main gate by Iraqi troops who, on finding Scotch whiskey in his possession, demanded a bribe in dollars or Kuwaiti dinars.

“That’s when I realized that the cabbie who had dropped us there was hand in glove with the cops,” says Fernandes.


On August 2, 1990, Anthony Veronica Fernandes, a retired social activist and writer, was on his way to the bakala (Arabic for grocery store), to get the morning papers, when he was held at gunpoint by Iraqi soldiers carrying ‘World War II style’ battered helmets and wireless sets. Traffic had come to a standstill, so he assumed some senior sheikh was passing by. “It was only when I heard engines running with no driver behind the wheel, that I sensed trouble,” he says.

“But as luck would have it, the soldier who was holding me at gunpoint got distracted by a Palestinian woman asking why the bus service had been stopped, and I bolted into my apartment building to inform my flatmate about the invasion,” says Fernandes, who founded the Goa-Kuwait Solidarity Centre and whose book on the Kuwait invasion will be released soon.

Veronica Fernandes and many others live today to tell the tales.

Recalling the ‘Airlift’, Esparansa Barretto, in her short story, ‘Nightmare of the Invasion’ writes, “We reached India after 9 long days of staying in camps, a journey from Kuwait through Iraq to Jordan. There were heavy showers as our plane landed Mumbai airport. My brother, who was little then, yelled with joy to be heard by everyone, “Look! Our motherland is crying happy tears today to see us back, safe and alive…”


  1. “According to media, the film released on 26th Jan 2016 is completely short in its research” – Report

    Shocking!! Bollywood geniuses didn’t do research on the very subject they were claiming to make a movie on?? I’m really surprised!!! LOL LOL

    On a serious note, who in right mind can expect a serious, historically accurate production from Bollywood? Indian movie industry is known for inferior production values and very low quality. The only question we need to ask is how many fights and songs the movie has. I’m curious to know if hero in this movie fought with Iraqi soldiers while singing a love song with his wife/ girlfriend!!

    • I’m curious to know if hero in this movie fought with Iraqi soldiers while singing a love song with his wife/ girlfriend!! – THE curious case of Yumreeki RampaNNA

      AND, I’m curious to know about the following:

      1. If it wasn’t for the strong force shown by Doddanna, kempanna, China, Indian military, RSS, Israel and other groups, the entire civilization would collapse under these dark forces dressed in dark!!

      We have ALL seen how the ragtag Vietcong (‘slant-eyes’) smashed Yumreeki ‘Alsande bargars with soce’ on their soil. MOST of them (poor souls) have PTSD.

      Did you’ll learn a LESSON? Naah! You;ll went gallivanting to Iraq + Afghanisthana. Those ragtag fellas shot your fancy Levi’s full of holes. MORE idiots roaming the streets of Harlem and Iowa and Idaho and Wyoming!

      So, Unc Sam is full of LEAD .. in da backside… front side..back side.. so to speak. Poison man! No wonder then that Uncle Obama is wary to set Yumreeki Caterpillars on the ground. Aunt Hilarious is equally wary too.

      I’m quite amused! Coz, you AMUSE me to NO EXTENT! RSS’akka he says! Looool! 🙂

      Thank God (your imaginary one, of course), I sold OFF my TV and set-top box. I have you ya Rampu.

      One day in future, human civilization will look back in disgust at how we treated animals and birds for thousands of years!! – Murudu Rampai

      Lol! By then, you and I will be just pics on the wall! So, JUST stop worrying like Asterix/Obelix/Cacofonix – the sky will wall down!

      Forget the animals and birds….. ask Unc Soma how they treated the indigenous people of Yumreeka and how they have mishandled the entire situation. Tread carefully.

      Btw, time is cyclic, as per you know-all Einstein! – As per your ‘pardada’s’ belief? So, if EVER meat-eating will be banned at some point in time SOON – WON’T the CYCLIC process make the habit REPEAT itself? Yuga.. kaala.. stithi… 200 packets (thanks to Abru).

      Artha aanda ya Rampa?

      Bundle buddodchi. Sathya patherla.

      Rampameva Jayathi. 🙂

  2. Indian Christian universities must document the history of Indian Christians in Gulf countries. Future Indian generations might get the impression from Bollywood movies and RSS historians that there were no Indian Christians in Gulf countries and they made no contributions to India.

  3. “…Bollywood movies and RSS historians…” writes Roy who holds a membership in Beef Club!!

    Yes – Bollywood and RSS share same ideology!! Didn’t you see how Bollywood-grade intellectuals were busy crying ‘intolerance’ simply because one of the RSS prachaarakas has gone onto become Pradhaana Sevaka? Well, I don’t expect Beef Club members to be pragmatic or honest. The sanaathana-dhwesha taught by foreign masters has turned them into a very strange, bi-polar, silly set of people!! Sad!!

    • The sanaathana-dhwesha taught by foreign masters has turned them into a very strange, bi-polar, silly set of people!! Sad!!

      Hey, have they legalized weed in your small ‘bed-space’ somewhere in some Godforsaken (Imaginary, of course!) ghetto in Harlem – NY? No wonder YOU are hallucinating SO MUCH! Smiles… 🙂

      And oh, is that why your Sanaaaaathana dharma followers wanted to play the Grinch on Xmas Day?

      And is that why YOU are sitting pretty in the land of the Sanaaaaaaathana-dwesha’ meshtrugalu and eulogizing?

      Bacchu.. Rampu’ji.. grow up yaar. 🙂

  4. Shocking!! Bollywood geniuses didn’t do research on the very subject they were claiming to make a movie on?? I’m really surprised!!! LOL LOL-Atheist Mr.Original Pai

    Sir, Original Pai mama who is suffering from K.S.Sudarshan short time memory loss has difficult to recall who is filled in the film censor board.

    The Modi government fills the vacancies in the film censor board with persons “proud” of their association with the BJP, after the resignation of Leela Samson and other panel members.

    Parivar faces on censor board

    “I AM proud to be a BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] man, and Narendra Modi is my action hero,” said Pahlaj Nihalani, Hindi film producer. For his unstinting loyalty to the party and the Prime Minister, Nihalani has been rewarded amply: he has been made the Chairman of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), or censor board.

    In fact, along with him, a band of BJP supporters have secured coveted positions on the board. This action is vintage BJP. In its previous tenure at the head of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government, the party had packed several quasi-government bodies with its own people in what was seen as an effort to further the Sangh Parivar’s saffron agenda.

    Essentially, the mass media, especially films and television, are largely secular platforms, and technically should function without any government interference. Positioning profiles such as Nihalani in key posts is causing concern within the film industry and among the liberal-minded. The BJP and other Sangh Parivar organisations have never been apologetic about their views on certain issues relating to religion, women and social norms. Their handling of these topics has been narrow-minded, even bordering on the absurd.

    While film producer Pahlaj Nihalani “Har Har Modi, Ghar Ghar Modi during the national elections last year, the Modi Bhakt in daily troll on social media blaming VP singh government and praising the single man for ‘airlift’ without knowing the reality in Kuwait. Hard reality is these bhaktha don’t even know that BJP has provided outside support to the Sighs government. Are they blaming the failure to themselves or forgot IK Gujral’s helping hand?

    Jai Hind

  5. @ Sharia Shaikh – Please note that censor boards are not in the business of making movies. If a movie is historically inaccurate, it is because of lazy direction. Your madrasa education is taking a toll on your ability to think straight.

    @ Joker Praveena Pinto – Your gibberish is hard to understand. Hopefully you are getting appropriate coaching in your anganwaadi class so we can expect better quality posts in a year or two!!! smiles…

    • @ Joker Praveena Pinto – Your gibberish is hard to understand. – RampaNNA

      “Gibberish”? That’s why I keep saying – ಶಾಲೆಗೆ ಹೋಗ್ಬೇಕ್ರಿ! 🙂

  6. Please note that censor boards are not in the business of making movies. If a movie is historically inaccurate, it is because of lazy direction. -Atheist Mr.Original Pai

    Sir,Original Pai mama is now bringing his ‘Taqiyya vada’ exhausted from ‘palyana vada’ defending PM Modi’s film censor board appointment.

    When Leela Samson and other panel members who held the positions in the censor board it has never embroiled in the controversy or never part of headlines. The elite club of RSS has never missed the opportunity by filling the vacuum to saffronise the censor board which is worth $5 Billion. The Modi government fills the vacancies in the film censor board with persons “proud” of their association with the BJP.

    This saffron Raj is not only limited to censor board but later extended to Appointing Gajendra Chauhan at Pune Film Institute head is latest instance of BJP overreach.


    In latest development travails of being a Muslim in India ; Shah Rukh Khan, Aamir Khan became victim of Intolerance.

    This is clever strategy of RSS political wing BJP overthrow minority Muslims from India, first from beef banning and taking over the reins of ‘pink revolution’ for export. Then Bollywood which worth Billions.

    Jai Hind

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