Dubai: UAE residents stranded in India have urged both governments to give them more time as many are finding it difficult to fulfil requirements to return to the UAE before the special agreement for flights expires on July 26.
Their plea comes ahead of India’s proposed review of the India-UAE special flights on Monday to decide on extension of the bilateral agreement based on demand.
Indian expats, who have been stuck at home for almost four months, fear that a review of the demand for flights based on the number of people who have already flown in might be giving the wrong indication about the actual scenario.
They claim that many flights returned with very few passengers due to various hurdles faced by both passengers and airlines.
Constraints in securing ICA approvals and getting the RT-PCR COVID-19 tests done as per the requirements of various emirates as well as the lack of enough charter repatriation from the UAE are some of the challenges faced by Indians trying to catch their return flights to the UAE.
Stranded Indian expats have also appealed to the UAE and Indian governments to consider that many of their jobs are at stake and therefore they are calling to extend the deadline for their return which currently stands at July 26.
Difficulty in doing COVID test
Palna Kulkarni, her husband Abhay Muglikar and children Saachi, aged eight years and nine-month-old baby Dhruv have all been stuck in India for the past four months.
“Our ICA permits have been rejected several times," said Palna. "The last four months we have been away from crowds, but now due to this mandatory COVID test for travel, we have to expose our little children to highly infectious places. Many Indians stay in Tier-2 cities and towns and there are no approved labs nearby. Our appointments are very far. I request the government to kindly extend the flights, so we can get back to the UAE.”
Palna Kulkarni has an ICA approval which expires on July 21. Her husband Abhay does not have an approval. Her daughter Saachi’s ICA permit expires on July 28 and her infant Dhruv has not been given an ICA approval so far.
“I just don’t know when all this will end,” she added.
No ICA permit for some family members
Abhishek Kumar, 34, hailing from Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh went to India on March 12 to pick up his son Vahin Sharma. The father and son were set to return on March 25 but that was not to happen.
“I am working in healthcare sector for a pharmaceutical manufacturing company in Ras Al Khaimah. I am very thankful to my organisation which has supported me in this Covid -19 pandemic situation. But now I want to come home to UAE,” said Abhishek.
Abhishek’s wife has been alone all this time in Ras Al Khaimah.
"Our son needs to start school. My son only has entry permit to UAE. I have applied for his ICA permit more than five to six times and it has been rejected all the time. I just don’t know what to do. With the deadline looming I am really not sure when I can get back to the UAE,” he added.
Hashim MT, from Kerala is also in a similar state. Working in Al Ain, Hashim also said he has been unable to get the ICA permit for his infant daughter.
“My wife delivered our daughter in December. She was planning to come in April but that has not happened. I have been unable to submit my child’s ICA application. It keeps giving an error in the system. When do I get to see my daughter? I hope the governments find a solution for desperate Indians like us. Something needs to be done and soon,” said Hashim.
Maninder Mehta and her husband Amarjeet Singh Rekhi are eagerly waiting for the return of their children Ramandeep Singh, aged 15, and Ashpreet Rekhi, aged 11, who went for a two-week vacation to Jamsedpur, only to get stuck there for months.
“They were in Kolkata airport waiting to board a flight when the flights were suspended,” said Maninder.
Some good news came as the couple’s daughter Ashpreet was able to return on July 18. They are waiting for good news on their son now.
“We hope and pray our son does not get stuck in India forever as the deadline is coming to an end. We are so distraught with the situation,” added Maninder.
Bhavya Sandeep, 35, a Sharjah resident and housewife has been stuck in Kerala, with her two children, Shreya, aged eight and Soorya, aged four, since March 9. Her husband Sandeep, is desperate for the family’s return to the UAE.
“After being stuck in India for four months, we had finally got a chance to return to the UAE on July 14. We all got our ICA approvals. Sadly, my daughter tested positive for COVID-19 and therefore could not take the flight,” said Bhavya.
“We were immediately taken to the government hospital and are now isolated here. As per the government rule, the next COVID-19 test can be done only on July 26 which is the last day for Indians to return. Not just that, we also have to follow one to two weeks of quarantine at home even if the test comes out negative. In that case, we can only travel back by August first or second week. But by then the deadline would be closed. The children are missing their father. We hope the two governments will extend the deadline,” she said.
Consul General’s assurance
However, the new Consul General of India in Dubai, who assumed office on Sunday, told Gulf News that the Indian government is expected to liberalise the air travel connectivity in the coming days. “The government of India is looking at liberalising the whole regime worldwide. We have already seen those signs. We are waiting for information from Delhi about further liberalisation in air travel connectivity. I am sure after this period, we should be seeing further liberalisation,” said Dr. Puri.
He said the governments are aware of the actual demand for flights.
“I think we have a fairly good idea about demand on both sides and we have obviously conveyed that through our embassy. So Delhi is aware of the entire demand and we are waiting to hear for the liberalisation of the air traffic,” he added.