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Harjeet Singh (right) hands over a free ticket to one of the stranded passengers sheltered by community group Orma. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Several Indians stranded in the UAE on their way to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, following flight suspensions in those countries last month, have returned home in batches with free tickets from the expatriate community in the UAE and the Indian Consulate in Dubai.

Some of the stranded passengers managed to fly to their countries of residence via Oman and Bahrain as well, according to community volunteers who have been supporting their stranded compatriots. Some passengers still continue to stay in the UAE, prompting the Indian Consulate to reiterate its advice that passengers in distress must return home, even though visit visas have been given free extension till March 31 in most cases.

As reported by Gulf News on February 15, the Indian Consulate in Dubai had offered to sponsor the repatriation of expatriates stranded in the UAE on their way to their work places in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, following COVID-19 travel restrictions.

Free tickets from consulate

The consulate told Gulf News that it was later approached by Indian associations and social groups, regarding “several Indian nationals who were intending to travel to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait via the UAE, but got stranded here due to the COVID-related restrictions on incoming passengers in those countries”.

“These social groups requested the consulate to offer help in issuing one-way air tickets for the stranded Indian passengers to return to India. So far, the consulate has issued around 40 one-way air tickets to stranded Indians on a means-tested basis to enable them to return to India,” said Siddhartha Kumar Baraily, Consul for Press, Information and Culture.

Community extends help

Some of the expat community groups also provided free accommodation and food to their stranded compatriots.

One such group, Orma, said it helped repatriate 113 stranded passengers who were accommodated in different buildings in Karama and Al Ghusais in Dubai and in Ajman. Of these, 13 tickets were provided by the consulate. They were handed over to the beneficiaries by Harjeet Singh, Consul, Labour.

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A volunteer of community group Orma hands over free tickets to two of the stranded passengers sheltered in Ajman. Image Credit: Supplied

Appreciating the efforts of Orma coordinators, Singh confirmed that many passengers were returning home or leaving for their destinations by making their own arrangements. “But some are still waiting, hoping that the restrictions might ease before their visa extension period ends,” he added.

Indian businessman Saji Cheriyan, who had offered shelter to around 400 stranded blue-collar workers, said most of them had returned home while some managed to fly to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait via Oman and Bahrain. “They were returning home in batches of 60, 30, 50 etc. Around 30 went yesterday,” he said on Monday.

Around 150 of them were given free tickets. “We sponsored 70 tickets, while some were given by a community group called Masca and the consulate. R. Harikumar of the Elite group of companies also gave away ten tickets.” Around 12 people left for Kuwait via Bahrain, he said.

Flying on high rates

“Tickets to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are very expensive now due to restrictions on the number of passengers that can fly in to those countries. Some people had to arrange money from back home to continue with their onward journey via Oman or Bahrain,” Cheriyan added. Unfortunately, some stranded passengers also contracted COVID-19 and they were either quarantined or hospitalised, he said. “Some have recovered and left the UAE. As of now, only 12 more people are left in our labour accommodation.”