Stranded Indian nationals will be repatriated from May 7 (picture for illustrative purpose) Image Credit: Agency

Dubai: Social workers and community leaders, who have been campaigning for the early evacuation of stranded Indians, on Monday urged their government to either provide free tickets or subsidise them to lessen the burden on citizens flying home as they are already in distress.

They were speaking after the Indian government announced that citizens flying home during the phased repatriation from May 7 would have to pay for their tickets.

“There are many people who want to go back because they have lost jobs and not getting their salaries. The Government should consider the plight of such people,” said Indian advocate Ibrahim Khaleel, secretary of Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre in Dubai and KMCC legal cell chairman.

He said KMCC, which had filed a petition for early repatriation of the stranded Indians in Kerala’s High Court, had already requested the missions here and ministries back home to provide free tickets to those who cannot afford to fly home.

“The government should at least subsidise the ticket prices and do justice to those who are already struggling,” said Khaleel.

The Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) should be utilised to issue free tickets to those returning home, said E.P. Johnson, president of Indian Association, Sharjah.

“Obviously, we welcome the government finally announcing the details of repatriation of the stranded Indians. However, a few of the announcements are really bothering us,” he said.

Apart from those who lost jobs or received pay cuts, Johnson said there are several stranded visitors and tourists who don’t have the money to even feed themselves.

“There are several people struggling for even one meal here. At least partial payment [of tickets] should be borne by the government though the ICWF community fund.”

He said the state governments should also provide free quarantine facilities for those who cannot afford to pay for them after reaching India.

Roop Sidhu, general secretary of Indian Association Ajman, echoed his words.

“Majority of Indians in the UAE on visit visas are stranded here due to the COVID-19 pandemic are jobless and facing difficulties to stay here and feed themselves. The Indian missions, associations and many kind individuals are donating food to these stranded workers to survive. Such persons cannot afford to pay for air travel and quarantine facility in India,” said Sidhu.

“The government should make some special arrangements for them. Otherwise most of these stranded Indians will not be able to make use of these arrangements,” he said.

Social distancing

Airlines are likely to charge a minimum of Dh2,000 per ticket considering the social distancing norms they have to follow, said Afi Ahmed, who runs a Dubai-based travel agency and was a co-petitioner in KMCC’s petition.

“The government should not allow airlines to exploit the situation by levying high airfare from the people who are going to their homeland in a crisis situation,” he said.

E.P. Johnson also objected to the government’s move to repatriate citizens without COVID-19 tests and plans to use naval ships for repatriation.

“How can one know if an asymptomatic person is not positive for COVID-19? It is risky to send people without checking the COVID status,” he said.

“Also, we have seen reports of how the coronavirus spread in some cruise ships. There could be similar risk for people going in navy’s ships if there is any lapse in observing the norms of social distancing. We hope the government will ensure that the people going from here will not end up adding to the coronavirus crisis back home,” he added.