Indian expats at King Fahad International Airport in Riyadh
A handout picture provided by the Embassy of India in Riyadh on May 8, 2020 shows Indian expats queueing up at departure section in King Fahad International airport heading to Kozhikode. Photo for illustrative purpose only. Image Credit: AFP

Abu Dhabi: Indian missions here have advised Indian citizens not to travel via the UAE to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait amid COVID-19 travel restrictions.

The Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi on Monday evening also issued an advisory urging such travellers currently stranded in the UAE to return home.

“It has been brought to the attention of the Embassy of Indian in Abu Dhabi and the Consulate General of India in Dubai that several Indian nationals intending to travel to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have got stranded in the UAE,” the mission stated in the advisory posted on Twitter.

It pointed out that “due to COVID-related restrictions on incoming passengers, currently it is not possible for Indian nationals to transit via Dubai and Abu Dhabi to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.”

“All Indian nationals are, therefore, advised to kindly ascertain the latest COVID-related travel guidelines of their final destination country before embarking on an outward journey from India. They are also advised to carry enough personal provisions and funds to cater to any emergent requirements,” the mission stated.

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It further added that “all those Indian nationals, who are already in the UAE en route to Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, are advised to consider returning to India and to make their further travel plan only after the restrictions in the final destinations countries are lifted.”

Norka seeks central government aid

Meanwhile, Kerala’s Norka Department for the welfare of Non-Resident Keralites, has urged the central government of India to assist the Indians stranded in the UAE through the missions.

In the event of uncertainty about their onward travel continuing for longer, they should also be given assistance to return home, Norka has said in a letter to the Indian missions under the directive of the state’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, according to a statement from Norka.

Hundreds of Indians working in Saudi and Kuwait had been stranded in the UAE initially when the two neighbouring states had closed their borders and stopped air travel to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in December 2020.

The stranded Indian passengers, mostly blue-collar workers hailing from Kerala, were among the beneficiaries of the free one-month extension for tourist visas announced by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

Free food

UAE-based community groups had provided free accommodation and food for a couple of weeks to around 600 such stranded Indians. The Indian Consulate had also reached out to them to support the distressed citizens with financial assistance.

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 community organisations had also arranged buses to ply those who could not immediately get flight tickets after the reopening of the airports in January.

Help secure jobs

With Saudi Arabia and Kuwait reimposing travel restrictions in view of increasing number of cases, fresh batches of travellers to those countries are now being stranded here once again, said Dr Abdul Salam Saquafi, public relations manager at Dubai Markaz Centre.

“We had reached out to a group of such people again. However, it has become imperative that they go back considering the current situation. They are resorting to travel this way because they are afraid of losing their jobs if they don’t reach for their visa renewals. We urge the Indian government to take this up and help these people to secure their jobs,” he told Gulf News.

What people say

Following the advisory by the Indian Embassy, some of the affected people also took to Twitter to seek help.

“It is not practical to go back immediately, many came to uae at a cost of around one lakh rupees, Many came here on credit, so You must intervene and extend the visa, as well as provide them with the accommodation they need until the travel ban is lifted (sic),” tweeted Jaseel.

“Travel arrangements should be made for those returning to India. This can be done with the Expatriate Welfare Fund, All other countries are making effective interventions on this issue, why can’t we? (sic),” he added.

Twitter user Shaik Nymu posted: “Dear ambassador. My Name is shaik Nymuddin My final destination is Kuwait I came dubai last month, and I stuck from jan 23rd . I booked ticket on march 2nd. Already I loose around 2 lakhs rupees sir ... now u guys saying to return. Plz send us to Kuwait (sic).”

The Indian passengers, who came over to the UAE on tourist visas, were to fly onward after spending 14 days of quarantine here since direct flights from India to those countries of residence are still not allowed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Quarantine package

In an attempt to reach their work places at the earliest, they had taken special “quarantine package,” which includes the cost of food and accommodation during the quarantine period and the onward ticket fare.

The quarantine here was mandatory because Kuwait and Saudi Arabia do not allow entry to passengers who have been in several countries, including India, in the past 14 days. These passengers are also required to undergo PCR test in the UAE and carry COVID-19 negative report to their destination countries.

Community organisations said they had to support several stranded passengers with PCR tests as well.