Dubai: Months of tension and frustration gave way to relief and joy for the first batches of stranded UAE residents who arrived from their home countries in Dubai on Thursday.
The National Emergency Crisis and Disasters Management Authority (NCEMA) and the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) on Tuesday announced that fully-vaccinated residence visa holders from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Nigeria and Uganda can return to the UAE.
Flights from India were the first ones to land in Dubai with stranded UAE residents early this morning.
A few dozens of passengers from Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram in the South Indian state of Kerala, who were among the first to come out of Terminal 3 at Dubai International Airport, shared with Gulf News their stories of long wait for the flights to resume and how they finally made it on the first flights back.
Neethu Raveendran, an Indian nurse working in Abu Dhabi, had no words to thank God and the UAE government for finally paving the way for her family’s return.
“We had gone home on annual vacation on April 16 as my brother was getting married. We were hoping to return after 45 days but got stuck there,” said Neethu who flew in with her husband and two children.
Arrival in nick of time
She said she and her husband Sudheesh Kumar were worried after the entry restrictions from India.
“After 45 days, I was on loss of pay. We kept waiting and praying for entry restrictions to be lifted soon,” Neethu said.
She said her biggest worry was her visa expiring on August 6.
The announcement on Tuesday about flight resumption was a big blessing for them, the couple said.
“I am the sponsor of my entire family. So, we were worried about all of our travel getting delayed further if my visa gets expired,”she said.
At the airport back home, they had faced another problem. Only Sudheesh had received the ICA approval. “We applied from the airport again and managed to get the approval. Thankfully, we managed to reach on the first flight itself,”
The family was told that they would be given the watch for tracking people on quarantine once they cross the border to Abu Dhabi.
One of the first passengers to arrive, Bertin Raju told Gulf News: “I just got back from Kochi. I have been there for around five months. Got stuck there (after the entry of passengers were restricted). Thanks to the UAE for letting us back in.”
Bertin, who had taken two doses of COVID-19 vaccine in the UAE, said the travel procedures to return from India were “quite smooth”.
“I just applied for the GDRFA approval yesterday and got it right away. I took a COVID test there (within 48 hours prior to departure). Then did the rapid test at the airport (four hours prior to boarding) and the COVID test again here (on arrival).
“I run my own business here on a partner visa. I had paid around Dh10,000 to fly on a charter flight. But that flight got cancelled. Everyone (who got stranded back home) has their own problems. But now there is a solution. I’m happy to be back.”
‘I am lucky my Armenia visa got rejected’
Dubai resident Manzoor Abdul Azeez, who works with an insurance company, arrived from Kochi.
He said he had flown home on July 1 for some emergency personal work and had planned to get back in two weeks as there was news that flights would resume on July 15.
“There was a lot of pressure because we have a lot of workload at office. Since flights didn’t start I had taken a package to travel via Armenia. I was supposed to fly Armenia today. But my visa application got rejected on Tuesday, may be because many people who got vaccinated in India started applying for visa after the news that only people vaccinated in the UAE can only return now. I am lucky I didn’t have to fly to Armenia and I could fly to Dubai on the first flight itself. Since I had already taken a PCR test to fly to Armenia, it became easy for me.”
Thrilled to be back
M. Abdul Rahman, a driver with a Sharjah school, said he was thrilled to fly back on August 5 as he would be able to finish the mandatory quarantine for 10 days and resume work on August 15, the day he was expected to report.
“I had gone home on vacation because I was not able to visit my mother when she underwent a surgery. When the flights got delayed I paid Rs130,000 for coming to the UAE via Maldives. That flight was yesterday. Since I cancelled the package and that flight was still on, the travel agency is refusing to refund the amount. I am still bargaining with them to get at least a partial refund.”
Lost money, peace of mind
Sandhu Santhosh and his wife Dakshina came from Thiruvananthapuram.
The couple said they had booked their tickets for August 5 to Maldives and lost around Rs80,000 after they cancelled the trip when they got to know they could fly to Dubai on the same day.
“We lost some money but that is okay compared to the peace of mind that we lost because of the delay in getting back to our work places,” said Sandhu, a visual editor with an advertising company.
The couple said they had flown home on April 30 because Dakshina’s mother was not well. “We were stuck in India for three months. Finally, we are happy to be back on the very first flight,” said Dakshina, an accountant with a Dubai school.
"We took GDRFA approval on August 4. But at the airport, they got the instruction that we need the approval from August 5 onwards. There was a lot of confusion and tension because of that. Finally, we were allowed to fly. We were around 20 passengers,” said Sandhu.
Flown for treatment
Saranya, an admin officer at an Abu Dhabi office, had flown home on June 27 for her treatment and had planned to return on July 8. “I went home because there was news that flights would resume. I didn’t expect the flights to remain cancelled. I had booked a ticket to fly via Maldives, but cancelled it after the news about the flight resumption came on Tuesday.”
She said since she was a non-clinical staff, she could not get special approval to return earlier. “I was constantly in touch with the HR. They asked me to try and book on the first flight itself. I was a little doubtful if I would make it as many people I know are waiting to take book flights because there are a lot of confusions.”
Passengers said the airlines were strictly following the new conditions for passengers allowed to enter from Thursday.
Only those who had vaccination certificates of taking both the doses of their COVID-19 vaccination in the UAE were being allowed to fly, they said. Approval from the GDRFA for Dubai residents and from the ICA for the rest of the UAE residents, negative reports of one PCR test taken within 48 hours of departure and another Rapid PCR test taken at the airport were also being asked for issuing boarding passes, they added.
Passengers, who arrived from Kerala, said several others who did not meet these requirements were turned away at the airport.