Dubai: With more than 10 per cent of Indian expats in the UAE registering to fly home during the coronavirus pandemic, India is set to add more flights during the third phase of repatriation which begins on Tuesday.
When contacted, Vipul, the Consul General of India in Dubai, confirmed to Gulf News that the total number of Indians who have registered for repatriation from the UAE has crossed 350,000.
That is more than 10 per cent of the total number of Indians in the UAE, which according to official records, is 3.4 million, forming the largest group of expats in the country.
However, the Consul General said that the database included several families who wanted to fly home for vacation and also many people who are going home to solve temporary issues such medical treatment and delivery.
“Many who have registered are also having a second thought about the possible delay in returning and are hesitating to fly,” said Vipul. “If we call 500 people for a flight four days ahead, only 150 will be game.”
He said some expats had applied thinking that the tickets would be free and some are now not ready to go as they do not want to be under paid institutional quarantine.
However, the repatriation of around 6,000 Indians in the UAE was facilitated during the first two phases of the ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ to repatriate Indians in distress from host countries, which came to an end on Saturday.
Special flights by Air India and Air India Express flew the registered expats. Applicants with the most compelling reasons were given priority on these flights, said Vipul.
Unique flights during repatriation
The first two phases of the world’s largest repatriation exercise also saw some unique flights being operated from the UAE to India.
One of them was a special flight which carried 170 prisoners who have been deported from jails in Dubai and Abu Dhabi after they finished their sentences.
“The special flight for deportees was operated by Fly Dubai from Dubai to Chennai. They are being quarantined there before being allowed to return to their respective states,” Vipul said.
The first ever international flight to Bhubaneswar in Odisha was also a repatriation flight from Dubai on May 14.
A new direct flight from Dubai to Srinagar was operated with 152 passengers on Friday, May 22.
“We are happy that they will reunite with families on Eid. Happy to assist,” the consulate tweeted.
A Dubai-Kochi flight on Saturday, May 16, was also unique as it carried a record number of 75 pregnant women among 181 passengers.
Three flights from Dubai and one from Abu Dhabi were operated on the last day of the second phase on Saturday May 23.
“We wish all travellers a Happy Eid reunion with their families,” the consulate tweeted.
More flights, new destinations planned
Vipul said the there are plans to increase the number of flights and destinations in the third phase of repatriation which will begin on Tuesday as more states announce their preparedness to receive and quarantine expats.
The next phase is likely to have an expanded schedule to Kerala and flights to new destinations like Jaipur, Ahmedabad etc.
As reported by Gulf News, the government has also allowed companies to charter flights to repatriate their employees.
There have been several pleas from various other Indian community members in distress as well to get priority for repatriation.
However, Vipul said the missions had been “doing everything in full honesty and transparency to accommodate the most deserving cases.”
The Consulate is also running a free helpline service (800-244-382) to assist Indians flying home on the repatriation flights.
Vipul said there are various stakeholders and complex procedures involved in preparing flights, which limit options of arranging them under the current circumstances.
“Several bodies like ministries of external affairs, home affairs, health and civil aviation have to coordinate with state governments to finalise the allocation of flights and arranging resources for receiving the passengers.”
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“Once the flight is approved by Delhi, we have to shortlist the passengers based on the compelling reasons cited and inform the full list of passengers to the UAE’s foreign ministry and the state governments in India,” added Vipul.
Last minute changes to accommodate some emergency cases have been difficult due to these reasons, he explained.
However, he said that the missions have managed to ensure that these special flights are flying in full capacity by keeping passengers on the waiting list on standby at the airports to allot them tickets if there is any no-show or people are offloaded due to immigration clearance issues or after failing medical screening including rapid COVID antibody tests.
He urged applicants with symptoms and known positive status of the disease not to travel as it would endanger others.
The state of Kerala has registered cases against three repatriated passengers who hid their COVID-19 positive status, media reports said.