Dubai: Stranded North East Indians in the UAE received a sliver of hope in the form a tweet from the Chief Minister of Manipur N Biren Singh on Friday.
Responding to a tweet from a volunteer who had compiled a list of desperate residents who’ve lost their jobs due to Coronavirus, and who want to return home, Singh promised he would take immediate action.
“Will pursue the matter with urgency. Thanks for sharing the list. We will overcome. Jai Hind,” he tweeted.
More than 200,000 Indians in the UAE have registered for repatriation, according to the Indian consulate in Dubai. While repatriation flights began earlier this month in phases, states with the largest number of expatriates seem to have been prioritised. A majority of flights have been allotted to Kerala so far.
Citizens from states such as Manipur, Nagaland and Mizoram in India’s north east region, are particularly vulnerable due to the absence of direct international flights. Strict quarantine laws in the ports of arrival mean they will have to first be quarantined, often at their own expense, before they are allowed to travel anywhere within India.
Chief Minister Singh’s tweet on Friday was the first positive sign for Calvin Joute who lost his job as a waiter in February.
Joute, who was earning Dh1,800 basic salary says he’s not been making any commission since last year, since the Indian street food he was working at in Dubai’s Karama was doing badly.
“They kept cutting from our basic salary for one excuse or the other, and then just stopped paying us from February. That’s when I decided I wanted to return home,” he says.
But just as he was preparing his return, India and UAE closed their borders in March, leaving Joute stranded, along with thousands of other Indians, with no source of income.
“I had to ask my family to send me money so I could pay rent and buy some food,” says the 26-year-old whose wife and daughter live in Manipur. “My company has not even given me tickets for my flight home so I will have to find a way to pay for that too.”
Ngamzamang Lhungdim, also from Manipur, is also waiting for a flight home. Lhungdim, who’s lived in the UAE for seven years, was given an option to take leave without pay or termination at his company in Abu Dhabi where he worked as a senior sales associate.
“We chose termination because without a salary we wouldn’t be able to afford to live here for long,” says Lhungdim, who was earning Dh4,000 a month at the international fashion chain he worked at. Lhungdim and his colleagues, who also chose to be terminated, were told by UAE immigration officers that they will have to pay fines if they overstay their grace periods after their visa has been cancelled.
The amnesty period of free visas until December 2020 announced by the UAE government only covers those whose visas expired before March 1. Fines for overstay is Dh200 for the first day and Dh25 each day after that.
“Our grace period is only until June 5. We’ve since been calling the embassy, going to the Air India office regularly, trying to find any information we can. We cannot afford to pay the fines and converting our visas to tourist visas costs Dh2,000, which is a lot,” says Lhungdim. “Even if we were to pay for the visa, how long will that last and how long can will we be stranded?”
The father of two, whose twins were born in December last year, says he and his colleagues are now panicking.
“It’s so frustrating. We’ve called everyone we could,” he says. “We have no income and there seems to be no solution. Like we’ve hit a wall and there’s no other way.”