Repatriation flights from UAE to India
Despite several passengers being repatriated from the UAE to India, there are thousands on the waiting list still Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Some are jobless, some are unpaid. Some are stranded in an unfamiliar land while some need emergency medical treatment. Some are waiting to give birth while some have lost their loved ones. But if there’s one thing that’s common to all of them, it’s their desperation to reach home in India.

As thousands of Indian expats in the UAE wait for their turn to fly home, they have called upon their home country to send more repatriation flights or start commercial flight services.

Hit by the COVID-19 pandemic in different ways, their plea follows India’s Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri’s promise to “significantly ramp up” repatriation flights under the Vande Bharat Mission from the UAE and other Gulf countries.

However, Gulf News has learnt that only six flights have been added to the third phase from the UAE as per the schedule revised on Thursday. Two flights to Delhi and one each to Mumbai, Goa, Mangalore, and Chennai have been added.

Those waiting to go back said that is not enough for the thousands wanting to be repatriated.

Several expats, who have posted their painful stories on social media and others who spoke to Gulf News, saidthey are mentally stressed and depressed due to the slow pace in which the repatriation is happening.

According to the latest figures released, some 60,000 people out of the more than 450,000 who have registered for repatriation had been flown home through Air India and chartered flights of other airlines between May 7 and June 20.

Dreams shattered

When he came over to Dubai in December 2019 to take up a new job, fashion designer Jahir Mohammad Harun had big dreams.

However, with the global pandemic wreaking havoc on various sectors including the fashion industry, Harun’s dreams were shattered within a few months.

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Jahir Mohammad Harun Image Credit: Supplied

The retail company that employed him for Dh5,500 stopped paying salaries from the end of March. Harun could not fly home after flights were suspended. His wife gave birth to their second son in April while he remained here.

With very few repatriation flights to Maharashtra, Harun is one of the thousands of stranded Indians from the state begging for more flights home.

“I have been struggling to survive with no money to pay for rent and for food,” he told Gulf News.

“I am staying in my friends’ place. But they also cannot keep me for a long time. I don’t have money to support my wife and kids who are staying away from both our families. I am getting very depressed day by day.”

Mental trauma

Zubair Siddiqui, who worked with the procurement department of a landscaping company, lost his job in April.

“I am living with help from my friends and cousins. I have to reach home immediately as my father is very old and ill and I don’t have any money left to survive here anymore,” said the man hailing from Telangana.

“We people from Telangana have had very few flights. We don’t know where we can go or whom we can approach. I know some people have flown on charter flights. But there is no information on how to book a ticket on those flights.”

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Zubair Siddiqui Image Credit: Supplied

He said, “I feel so depressed. There are so many people like me suffering from mental trauma. We don’t know what will happen to us or when we will manage to go home.”

Stranded visitors

Mohammed Khaleq, whose mother and sister came on a visit visa for his wife’s second delivery, is concerned about not being able to send them back, even as he has received an intimation from his office that he might be transferred to Saudi Arabia.

“Though their visas will be valid till year-end, I cannot afford to keep them here. My mother’s medicines from India are over. She is almost 70 and doesn’t have medical insurance. I have started going back to the work site and I am worried about the exposure as she and my newborn baby are at high risk.”

Since Air India is operating Vande Bharat flights and other airlines are now engaged in charter service, he said there was no reason for the government in delaying the resumption of commercial flights.

Mahender Mali, a stranded student, has been tweeting to Indian authorities seeking help to fly back to Chennai.

According to the tweets, Mali came over here to do unpaid internship for 60 days which did not happen.

“Now I am stuck here for more than three months. I am in deep depression… no help, no money to sustain here in Dubai. My younger sister is all alone in Chennai. Help me go back,” Mali said in tweets repeatedly posted till Tuesday evening.

Pregnant women still struggling

Hundreds of pregnant women have already been flown home on repatriation flights. But there are many more like Raisa Khadija who are still struggling.

A teacher who resigned her job after she conceived her first baby eight years after she got married, Khadija had planned to fly home for her delivery. However, due to the complications in the first trimester, doctors asked her to postpone her travel.

When coronavirus hit the travel plans, she registered for repatriation. “I tried my best to get a chance on Vande Bharat flights, but to no avail.”

She said her attempts to get on a charter flight to Thiruvananthapuram also failed. “We approached KMCC and Indian Association Sharjah etc. The option I got was to fly to Kochi from Ras Al Khaimah. With my health condition I cannot afford to take more risk by travelling for long hours and especially by road after reaching Kochi.”

Now that she has hit the 34th week of pregnancy, Khadija’s hopes to fly home have dimmed.

“Since we don’t have any relatives here, we need to look for a maid who can stay with us as it is risky to opt for part-time workers in this condition. I just hope that my friend, who is in her early stage of pregnancy, will at least manage to fly home soon.”

8,000 Tamil expats on waiting list

Dr Jayanthimala Suresh, founder patron and President, Dubai Tamil Sangam, said Tamil expats in the UAE have started leaving on emergency repatriation flights. According to Suresh, 350 people have left home for Chennai. But at least 8,000 people are still waiting in the UAE to leave the emirates and head home as many have been rendered jobless.

Suresh said the first two batches of Tamilians to leave UAE were mostly pregnant women, senior citizens and those with medical conditions and those bereaved. “But we need more flights as there are thousands who have lost jobs and need to go home.”

“We have received great support from the Consul General of India (CGI) Dubai. We are confident the mission will organise more flights for stranded Tamilians in UAE.”

- with inputs from Anjana Kumar, Staff Reporter