indian repatriation
Picture for illustrative purposes: stranded Indians return on repatriation flights Image Credit: Gulf News

Dubai: Stranded Kashmiris in the UAE said they hope to fly home direct from Dubai to Srinagar as the fallout from the coronavirus crisis deepens.

A special repatriation flight from Dubai to Srinagar has already been arranged for May 22, top Indian diplomats in the UAE confirmed to Gulf News, with allowance for around 150 passengers.

Some stranded Kashmiris told Gulf News they hope for a few more such flights as there are thought to be at least 600 Kashmiris seeking immediate travel home for various reasons.

Thanking the Indian embassy and consulate in the UAE for their efforts towards facilitating the May 22 flight, they appealed to the missions as well as the Indian government to consider more flights from the UAE to the union territory (formerly state) of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K).

Since May 7, India has evacuated around 4,000 of its nationals from the UAE on special Air India Express flights to various home cities, as part of its ongoing ‘Vande Bharat Mission’ to return them from host countries.

Jobless and homeless

On Monday, Adil Ahmad, an Abu Dhabi-based Kashmiri, said he and his pregnant wife have registered under the repatriation mission and hope for a confirmation to travel.

“Due to the economic impact of the pandemic, I was made redundant from my job in the sales industry in March. I have received no salary since then and all my savings have been used up in hospital bills for my pregnant wife, who has multiple health issues, but no health insurance. She came here on a visit visa in February and now has been stranded,” Ahmad, 35, said.

“I couldn’t pay the rent lately so we had to leave. We’re staying at my cousin’s place for the time being but we need to go back home because I cannot sustain our living here any longer.”

Ahmad, who has spent six years in Abu Dhabi, added: “A direct flight to Srinagar is really the best option for us as we’re familiar with the arrangements there and have family there. Going to another city first and then trying to get home presents additional sets of challenges and expenses in these times of travel restrictions, lockdowns and uncertainties. We request the Indian government and J&K government for at least three flights to cater to the travellers from here.”

‘We’re stuck here’

Iqra Ashraf and Tawseema Ali

In Dubai, sisters Tawseema Ali and Iqra Ashraf are also stranded. Tawseema had come here in October 2019 to be with her husband.

“His mother was taken ill and he went to Kashmir in March to see her. He has been stuck there since then because of the lockdown and lost his Dubai job as well. I’m stuck here with no job, no savings and no way to get home. My sister came here in March to look for a job – she didn’t find anything and instead got stranded,” she said.

The sisters have also registered for the mission.

Constant care, constant fear

Meanwhile in Sharjah, Junaid A. is trying to arrange travel home for his wife, who is almost six months pregnant, and his visiting mother who is unwell.

“My wife has health complications and needs constant care. My mother, who had an operation last year, is ill as well. She doesn’t have health insurance as she came here on a visit visa in February. We’ve registered for the repatriation as they both need to be cared for by family back home. I’m away during the day at work and constantly worry about their health,” said the 31-year-old, who works in the banking sector.

Making space

Ajaz Bhatt

Another Kashmiri in Dubai said he cancelled his plans to take his parents, whose visit visa expired in April, on the repatriation flight.

“We wanted to make space available for more urgent cases to go home. There are many desperate cases and I request authorities for more flights,” said Ajaz Bhatt.

Reaching out

Indian Ambassador to the UAE Pavan Kapoor
Pavan Kapoor, Indian Ambassador to the UAE Image Credit: Supplied

Pavan Kapoor, the Indian ambassador to the UAE, on Monday told Gulf News he was “glad this [Dubai-Srinagar flight] has come about”.

“We had several Kashmiris telling us they would like to also go back to India and we had reflected this back to India and the Government of India felt, yes, we would try to also [bring them home]. As we are trying to reach out to all segments of our population in this country [UAE], we thought we should also try and see if we can organise a flight for them, preferably before Eid, and I’m glad this has come about. It’s really important for people to try and be home at the time of important occasions, like Eid. So I think it’s very good that this has actually come about,” Kapoor said.

When asked if more such Dubai-Srinagar repatriation flights would be possible, the ambassador said: “That will be looked at. This is the first time we’re doing a flight to Srinagar. We have had flights to many other places and if you look at the profile of the population, there is a huge demand from many other places and we’re trying to meet the demands of everyone.”

Passenger list

Speaking about some aspects of the May 22 flight, Vipul, consul general of India in Dubai, said the passenger list of around 150 people is expected to be finalised in the next two or three days.

India's Consul General to Dubai, Vipul, pictured here during repatriation flights Image Credit: Anjana Kumar

“Our focus will be on the elderly, medical cases, pregnant women, the stranded among workers, students, visitors and tourists. It will be a mix of everyone; we don’t want, as much as possible, to leave anyone out… We will draw up a list of people, from those registered, who we believe are in more distressed situations. We’re working with the community to see that such people are able to go back,” Vipul added.

Around 3.3 million Indians live and work in the UAE, making up the biggest expat community in the emirates. More than 300,000 of them have registered on the database under the Vande Bharat Mission so far. Over a dozen repatriation flights from UAE to India are scheduled this week till May 23, under the second phase of the mission, Vipul said.