Dubai: She witnessed her ailing husband dying while she was on a video call with him on March 23, a day before their wedding anniversary.
She watched his cremation too on a video call, as she did the subsequent journey of her three school-going daughters to a government care facility back home in the south Indian state of Kerala.
The agony of being stranded in the UAE during the COVID-19 pandemic could not have been more painful for Bijimol. S, who had come here on a visit visa to look for a job to sustain her family.
The 37-year-old Keralite had taken a flight to the dream city of Dubai, where her husband Sreejith K.S. had worked for 13 years earlier, hoping that she would be able to take care of his cancer treatment and their daughters’ education.
On Thursday, Bijimol took a return flight under the Vande Bharat Mission to repatriate Indians during the COVID-19 pandemic.
And she had many names to thank for extending a helping hand when she needed it the most.
Speaking to Gulf News over phone from Dubai International Airport minutes before she boarded the Air India Express special repatriation flight to Kochi, Bijimol expressed her gratitude to the UAE and Indian authorities, social workers and other individuals who stood by her.
Duped by agent
Sharing more details of her tragic story, Bijimol claimed that she was duped by an agent who had promised her a job at an Ayurvedic health care facility by taking Rs300,000 (Dh14,530) from her.
“We had borrowed that money at an interest, hoping that I would be able to repay it installments when I get a job. I didn’t have to leave my family and come here had my husband not fallen sick,” she said.
However, after landing here on January 16, she said she was taken to a massage parlour.
“The Ayurvedic service that I had learnt is not what the massage parlour was offering. I wasn’t comfortable working there. In three days, I stopped going there.”
With the agent not being of any further help, Bijimol then had to take refuge at a friend’s place.
“My one-month visit visa expired on February 16 and I couldn’t afford to go back without a job.”
On March 16, Bijimol’s friend flew home. However, Bijimol claimed that she could not catch a flight home before the flight services were suspended and India imposed a lockdown.
“I was already overstaying. I was trying to trace the agent but I couldn’t.”
On the ill-fated day of March 23, her husband collapsed while he was talking to her on a video call.
The bone-cancer patient was bound to a wheel chair with his legs plastered waist down.
“He had jaundice and his brain was also affected, I was told. I helplessly saw him collapsing and dying right in front of my eyes though I was far away here.”
Bijimol said she also watched her husband’s cremation carried out by his nephews. She said her three daughters were taken to a child welfare centre by the Kerala government.
Help pours in
Kerala’s Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, Health and Social Welfare Minister K.K. Shailaja and NORKA Roots CEO Harikrishnan Namboothiri have intervened to offer support, she said.
Here in the UAE, Bijimol was offered help by the Indian Consulate in Dubai and other community members.
“The consulate gave special consideration to her case and we had been in constant touch with her,” said Praveen Kumar, a social worker volunteering for the consulate.
He said many Good Samaritans from the UAE and India also came forward to support Bijimol.
Fr. Ninan Philip, vicar at St. Thomas Orthodox Cathedral. arranged accommodation for Bijimol at a hotel apartment.
“I had been under the care of the church and the consulate all these days. Also, Kalamassery Municipality ward member Jessy Peter and engineer Suja Kumari have been pillars of strength for me,” said Bijimol.
The consulate provided a return ticket to Bijimol while her overstay fines were automatically waived, thanks to the UAE government’s recent decision to cancel all fines incurred even before March 1.
“I don’t know how to thank everyone who helped me. I am also thankful that the government is arranging a quarantine facility near my place,” said Bijimol who has to wait for another seven days to complete her mandatory quarantine period in Kerala before she meets her daughters.