Repatriation flights from UAE to India
Passengers taking a repatriation flight from UAE to India. Picture for illustrative purposes only. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: As many as 1.3 million passengers have travelled from the UAE to India during the COVID-19 pandemic, India’s Minister of State for External Affairs and Parliamentary Affairs V. Muraleedharan, who is currently on an official visit here, said on Thursday.

He said almost 1.15 million passengers have also returned to the UAE so far.

“We are seeing a gap of only around 150,000 people (between those who flew to India and those who returned) as of now,” the minister told media during an interaction at the Indian Consulte in Dubai on Thursday.

“But it doesn’t mean that all of them have lost their jobs. It could be that some of them are trying for some other avenues or some of them are on vacation. We also have the issue of ICA [Indians stuck back home not receiving ICA approval to return].” He said community members’ concerns about the delay in getting ICA approval were taken up with the UAE leaders during his visit.

“They were very positive about that. They will try to address that issue,” the minister said in response to a question from Gulf News. The minister said the other community issues discussed with the UAE leadership included request to avoid delays in disbursing gratuity and other end-of-service benefits to expatriate Indian employees, as raised by a section of private sector employees and the concerns regarding equivalency certification for nurses from Indian states other than Kerala.

"We have been continuously engaging with the UAE government regarding the nurses’ issue. There is progress in that and we have gone ahead. Still, a final decision is yet to be taken,” he said.

Muraleedharan said the upcoming Emigration Act in India will ensure migrants are safeguarded and migration is encouraged and those exploiting Indian workers are brought to book. He welcomed the UAE’s move to streamline the employment of domestic workers under the umbrella of Tadbeer. He said India’s air bubble agreements with the UAE and more than 20 countries for point-to-point flight services during the pandemic would continue until regular international flight services are resumed by the civil aviation authorities of different countries.

Meanwhile, he said an agreement has been made with Emirates airline to facilitate connecting flights to African and Latin American countries.

Addressing welfare issues

Regarding the welfare measures taken by the Indian government to address the rehabilitation of those who have returned home after losing their jobs, Muraleedharan said the federal government in India was working with the state governments to ensure that returning expats were not left alone.

He said everyone returning home under the Vande Bharat Mission, which repatriates Indians stranded abroad due to COVID-19, is being made to submit details about their skills to the government through the initiative called SWADES (Skilled Workers’ Arrival Database for Employment Support). “The Ministry of Skill Development will match their skills and job requirements so that a person who has better skills and capabilities can be utilised for jobs requiring such skills.”

He said the Upskilling Centre launched by the consulate in Dubai on Wednesday also aims to address the post-COVID requirements of new skill-sets for workers. He also promised to address the issues faced by middle-class families due to job losses and salary cuts as faced by Indian expats other than the blue-collar workers.

“For that, we are reaching out to various countries so that Indians are also considered whenever opportunity arises and Indians are valued in a better way. Those people, whose salaries were cut, are also on our list of things that need to be addressed.”

Support for COVID-19 victims

Responding to a query on the support extended to Indians dying abroad due to COVID-19, he said the government would first have to prepare a database of those who died specifically due to COVID-19 and then look into offering support to their families.

When it was pointed out that some states such as Kerala were taking more initiatives to address the issues of Indians returning home due to the pandemic, he said his ministry would continue to ensure that welfare of every Indian citizen abroad was a priority.

Muraleedharan also promised that the government would come up with a mechanism to address the psychological pressure and mental health issues being faced by expats and those returning home due to the impact of COVID-19. He appreciated the Indian missions in the UAE for providing psychological counselling to the community when the pandemic was at its peak.

Answering questions from representatives of community organisations, the minister said MEA would welcome any decision taken by the Election Commission of India in ensuring voting rights for overseas Indians.

Earlier in the day, the minister visited the Indian Association in Ajman and also inaugurated the office of Indian People’s Forum in Ajman. He visited the Gulf Medical University in Thumbay Medicity in Ajman and appreciated the hard work by doctors, nurses and paramedics during the pandemic.

Earlier, on Wednesday night, Muraleedharan met Indian business leaders in Dubai, where he thanked them for their contribution towards strengthening Indo-UAE relations and supporting the community during the pandemic. He also invited them to participate in the 'Aatmanirbhar Bharat' (Self-Reliant India) campaign by making investments back home.