Dubai: The majority of Indians stranded in the UAE due to airport closures on their way to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have returned to their countries of residence, with many taking buses to Saudi Arabia and the rest flying back to both the countries.
Around 600 Indian expatriates from the two neighbouring countries were sheltered by two community groups in the UAE after they were stranded due to sudden airport closures in those countries in December, 2020, to prevent the new strain of COVID-19.
The UAE Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC) had sheltered around 350 stranded compatriots in a building under the Ministry of Health and Prevention in Ajman. Another group of around 250 were housed in a workers’ accommodation in Dubai Investment Park by the Indian Cultural Foundation (ICF) volunteers under Dubai Markaz Centre, in tie-up with construction firm Aasa Group.
The stranded Indians, mostly blue-collar workers, had started flying back to their countries of residence since last week after the airports reopened. However, due to the high fares, many faced delays after rescheduling their tickets for affordable fares, following which the community groups decided to arrange buses to transport such expats to Saudi.
A total of five buses (two arranged by KMCC and three by ICF) transported around 125 passengers to Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh over the weekend. “So far, 54 people have been taken to Riyadh by bus free of charge and again today 29 more are leaving. The last bus will leave on the night of January 12,” said Dr Puthur Rahman, president of UAE KMCC National Committee. Lukuman Mangad, ICF volunteer captain, said 70 passengers were sent in three buses over the weekend. “Except for a few from Kuwait, who are waiting to catch their flights, all the passengers have left their accommodations. We had sponsorship to offer free COVID-19 tests to all of them. Unfortunately, some people tested positive and they were moved to isolation centres under the Dubai Health Authority,” he added.
The Indian Consulate in Dubai had also reached out to the community groups who were sheltering stranded Indians and offered its support. “We are thankful to our community groups who have provided food and accommodation to Indians from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. We had visited the accommodations and offered all possible assistance from our side on behalf of the Indian government,” said Neeraj Agrawal, Consul, Press, Information and Culture. He said the consulate provided a financial aid of Dh30,000 to KMCC in this regard. “We have offered to assist both the organisations wherever they have a shortfall. Since KMCC requested for help, it has been arranged. We are willing to assist those under ICF also if required,” he added.
Harjeet Singh, Consul, Labour, handed over the consulate’s cheque when the third bus left from the Ajman KMCC shelter on Sunday evening. Thanking the aid from the consulate, Soopy Pathirippatta, president, KMCC Ajman, said more than Dh70,000 had been spent just for arranging food for the passengers. “We also want to thank our sponsors and our main volunteers Faisal Kareem, Salih C.H. Ashraf, Adil Kannur and Abdul Aziz, who did everything for the passengers.”
Passengers relieved, thankful
Mohammed Haris, a salesman at a foodstuff store in Saudi, was among the passengers who took the KMCC bus on Sunday. “I have no words to thank the KMCC volunteers. We would have been left in the lurch had they not supported us. Apart from the free accommodation, they gave us better food than what we had received in the accommodation provided to us under the package taken through travel agency earlier.” He further said getting free bus transportation to Saudi Arabia was something that he had never expected. “They have also given us snacks, water etc for the journey. We will be forever indebted to their generosity.”
Passengers who managed to reach Saudi Arabia by bus said they were relieved and were thankful for all the assistance. Sam Chacko from Kerala, a driver in Saudi Arabia, said he and nine others were about to return to India after they heard about the airport closure in Saudi Arabia. “It was only because of the support from ICF that we again had hopes to fly to Saudi Arabia. I can’t thank the volunteers enough for all the generous service they provided us with. Many of us had no money. Apart from food and accommodation, they helped us with COVID-19 tests also. We are so thankful to them for arranging buses for us,” Chacko said.
Another passenger, Abu Zishan from Uttar Pradesh, said: “We have reached Saudi Arabia finally without any hassle — thanks to the kindhearted volunteers. I will keep praying to Allah to bless all those who helped us in the UAE.”