NAT 200507 REPATRIATION FLIGHT-2-1589436364890
Passengers at Dubai International's Terminal-2 ahead of the first Air India Express repatriation flight to Kozhikode in Kerala. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

DUBAI: Over 3,000 Indian expatriates from six Gulf countries, including the UAE, have registered a complaint with the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) in India asking the central government there to increase the number of repatriation flights for stranded Indians in the wake of a pandemic situation.

A copy of the complaint, registered on May 13, called on the Indian Government to also bear ticket and quarantine costs for deserving individuals who cannot afford to pay.

“We are a group of Indian expats who have signed a petition calling for the intervention of the Human Rights Commission for speedy repatriation of stranded nationals in the Gulf,” said Abulaise, president of Pravasi Welfare Forum, one of the people to sign the petition.

“The signed petition which has been received by the NHRC also appeals the GOI to bear the cost of repatriation of Indians stranded in the Gulf in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.”

In September 2019, data released by the United Nations revealed Indians are the largest group of international migrants living abroad at 17.5 million. Of them, an estimated 3.3 million are in the UAE, accounting for the largest Indian community in the world.

The petition cites the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. “India has signed and ratified this. Every Indian has the right to return home to his country,” said Bunaiz Kassim, a Kerala businessman and president of Pravasi India for Dubai.

“This is also part of the fundamental rights of our people under the Constitution of India. It covers the right to freedom of movement within the territory of India and the right to life as published in Articles 19 and 21,” he said.

Kassim – who has also signed the petition - said Indian expatriates have made a direct comparison of the current pandemic situation the tensions in the region in 1990 where there was a similar demand for evacuation of Indians.

Need for wide-bodied aircraft

Sreedharan Prasad, a social worker in Ras Al Khaimah, said there is an immediate need for wide-bodied aircraft to fly several medical patients on ventilators and who have been left paralysed. “I also request the Indian Government to increase the number of flights to cities in Kerala considering that a majority of Indians residing in the UAE are from the Indian state. There are at least 100,000 Keralites who want to go home. At the rate the repatration is going – it will take months for them to leave the UAE.”

Flight and quarantine costs

Flight costs for Indians heading home hover around Dh700-Dh750. “Besides, there is the quarantine cost attached for returning Indians. While Kerala is offering free quarantine, other states charge a certain fee.”

A Dubai resident who flew home last week to Chennai in the second round of repatriation of flights for Indians stayed at a hotel paying Rs2,500 a night as part of his quarantine stay.

Aravinth Muthusamy, an engineer working for a construction company in Dubai who has gone on emergency leave told Gulf News, all passengers inflight were asked to fill out quarantine forms with options of stay under category A, B and C.

“Category A pertains to free of cost government quarantine stay. Passengers taking this option were put up at the Vellore Institute of Technology Chennai Campus. The second quarantine option came for a price of Rs1,500 a day and the last category at Dh2,500 a day.”

Dr Jayanthmala Suresh, a Dubai-based social worker who helped repatriate a number of Tamil-speaking Indians stranded in the UAE on the flight, said: “Ninety per cent of the passengers went with the government quarantine option as they could not afford to bear the cost. The passengers, mostly blue collared workers, were picked up by a bus and taken straight to the facility at the VIT campus,” she explained.

Consul General of India Vipul earlier told Gulf News plans are afoot to add more flights in the next phase of Indian repatriation.

“The number of flights are being decided by India in consultation with state governments.”