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The first direct flight to Guwahati that took off on Friday Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Three historic charter flights took off with stranded Indians from the UAE on Friday.

These repatriation flights included the first ever direct flight to Guwahati in Assam, the first Middle Eastern airline to fly to Bagdogra airport in West Bengal and the first individual-sponsored charter flight from the UAE that was flown to Kochi in Kerala.

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Passengers of the Guwahati flight ahead of their departure from the UAE Image Credit: Supplied

The first two flights fulfilled the dream of more than 400 stranded Indians from the country’s north-east region to fly home.

The Bagdogra flight from Sharjah flew home 215 passengers while the Guwahati flight from Dubai repatriated 189 passengers.

An additional 185 passengers in distress flew home for free on the Kochi-Dubai flight.

Story of Guwahati charter

The special FlyDubai repatriation flight to Guwahati was organised by Satguru Travel and Tourism, who worked with Dubai-based volunteers. It was the first ever direct flight to the north east Indian airport from the UAE, the organisers said.

“We did Guwahati because no one was taking care of Indians from the north east. We started looking into it after we received many requests and since we had the resources, we decided to help,” said Gaurav Keswani, a senior corporate sales executive at Satguru Travel and Toursim.

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More passengers of the Guwahati flight Image Credit: Supplied

“This is also the first ever FlyDubai flight to that part of India,” he said. The company has so far facilitated nine repatriation flights out of the UAE.

Many of the passengers, including three infants, were stranded after India shut its international borders in March following the pandemic. While some had lost their jobs in the UAE, others were visitors who could not return home after their visas expired.

Free tickets

Dubai-based businessmen also stepped in to help pay for 22 passengers’ tickets.

Dhananjay Datar, chairman and managing director of Al Adil Group, sponsored 10 passengers. Mahesh Jaishankar, a long time Dubai resident along with his friend Kushal Shah and others, donated money for 12 passengers. Tickets cost Dh1,500 (Rs30,500) per head.

Friday’s flight was a long time in the making, said volunteers.

“We started getting desperate calls for help in March when the lockdowns began and quickly rallied community leaders to help those stranded. It’s been a long struggle to finally get this first flight to take off,” said volunteer Ngayaomi Ruivah, a Dubai-based graphic designer from the north east Indian state of Manipur.

Of the 189 on board, 30 passengers are from Ruivah’s home state. The rest are from Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.

How the Bagdogra flight happened

The Air Arabia flight G9 65703 which took home 215 stranded Indians from North Bengal and Sikkim is the maiden chartered flight and the first Middle Eastern commercial airline to land in the airport, the organisers said.

A core group of concerned Indian expatriates from North Bengal comprising Steven Gurung, Sonam Topden Bhutia, Aaron Pradhan, Praveen Tamang, Chogyal Tshering La and others steamrolled the initiative to repatriate them as most were unemployed and stranded in the UAE due to the flight suspensions during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Sharjah-Bagdogra flight Image Credit: Supplied

“We felt compelled to take action on witnessing the distress of our fellow Indians from our region, and we are extremely happy to have been able to get them safely home to their families,” the core members said in a statement.

The driving force was the national spirit of expatriate Indians, officials of the Ministry of External Affairs and the Indian Consulate, Dubai, who came forward to assist and make this happen, they said, thanking everyone who supported them.

With the help of the community, they said, they were also able to provide dry rations for some of the stranded citizens and tickets for a few who could not afford to fly home as their return tickets were with commercial airliners.

David. T, another volunteer for the Guwahati flight, said there are still many more people in distress waiting to go home to the north eastern states of India.

“We still have many more stranded North East Indians and we’re working with Satguru Travel and Tourism to organise another flight to Guwahati,” said the Dubai-based journalist.

“Since many of them have been out of jobs for months, we will need all the help we can get to get them to board their flights.”

CG hands over free tickets to Kochi

Meanwhile, the out-going Consul General of India in Dubai, Vipul, handed over a free air ticket to Athira Narayanan, who was without any job and income for the past three months.

She was one of the 185 passengers of the special chartered flight from Dubai to Kochi fully sponsored by Jiji Varghese, managing director of J&J Marketing L.L.C. Dubai, a leading market distributor in the stationery industry.

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CGI Vipul (centre) with the symbolic ticket for the free Kochi charter flight to passenger Athira Narayanan (second from left) in the presence of Jiji Varghese (third from left) and other team members Image Credit: Supplied

Vipul conveyed his appreciation and lauded the efforts taken by Varghese to help the needy as part of the CSR initiative of his company.

Varghese stated: “Right from the time we announced the free repatriation flight, our dedicated telephone numbers were flooded with calls from our brethren including those who have lost their jobs, those suffering from chronic illness, those without a place to stay as well as pregnant women to get a seat and travel back to their hometown.”

“This mission of repatriating 185 deserving individuals was made possible thanks to the dedicated effort of a team that was constituted specifically for this purpose. I convey my utmost appreciation and gratitude for the continual efforts taken by all the individuals who were actively involved in making this charitable initiative a great success. Above all, I thank our Almighty for getting this realised.”