Dubai: What was meant to be a short getaway to Morocco has now turned into a never-ending ordeal for several UAE residents, with border closures caused by COVID-19.
These UAE residents who are currently stranded in several cities across Morocco reached out to Gulf News to discuss their plight in the hope that UAE authorities take notice and dispatch a repatriation flight at the earliest. Morocco has closed its borders and only repatriation flights are currently operational from the country.
One-and-half-year-old baby separated from mother
Abdelilah Rida, a Moroccan national, his wife, Aleksandra Gorid, a Belarusian, and their 19-month-old kid, Rayan, travelled from the UAE to Morocco on March 5. Although Aleksandra returned to Dubai on March 13, her husband and son stayed back in Morocco. The duo were supposed to be in Morocco for one more week to assist Abdelilah’s father with his medical treatment.
However, with the Moroccan government closing its borders on March 14, the two have been stuck in their house in Tangier province in northern Morocco for over 100 days.
“My son has been separated from his mother for 100 days. He is constantly crying to be with his mum. He doesn’t know why he cannot be with her. No kid can stay without a mother for such a long time. My wife is also in deep anguish and depressed that we are living apart,” said Abdelilah, who works for a UAE developer as an owners’ account manager. His wife works as a marketing manager in a consulting company.
On the verge of bankruptcy
Matters have taken a turn for the worse with Abdelilah’s employer putting him on unpaid leave, which makes it harder for him to meet his family’s needs.
“I am almost on the verge of bankruptcy. We have a mortgage in Dubai and other expenses as well. In Morocco, I spend around $1,500 (Dh5,500) a month on expenses for my son and me. I am worried about my financial situation as I have been spending for 100 days with no income. I am the only financial provider to my parents as well,” he told Gulf News.
The Moroccan national has already registered with the ICA, but his application was rejected the first time around. He resubmitted his application a second time on May 22.
“I urge the UAE government to help us. After living in Dubai for 10 years, I consider the UAE home. I hope that our voice will be heard and they will help us,” Abdelilah added.
4-day holiday turns into months-long wait
Apuroop Kypuram and his fiancée, Savindhi Nishalie Motha, both residents of Dubai for more than 30 years, had planned a 4-day trip to Morocco and arrived on March 14. However, within a couple of hours of their arrival, they realised that Morocco was about to impose flight restrictions from March 16. The couple tried to change their return flight to the last available flight back to Dubai on March 15, but were informed that it was overbooked.
“We still went to the airport to try and request if any flights could accommodate us as we realised if we did not get a flight then, we might be stranded for a few weeks. As expected, the airport was full of passengers trying to leave Morocco due to the lockdown that was about to be enforced. We did not get the flight. Little did we know that we would end up being stranded for three months with no opportunity to return,” recalled Apuroop.
Apuroop, an Indian national, and Nishalie, a Sri Lankan, are currently based at a family-run guest house in Tangier. There are strict lockdown measures in place in Tangier and a special movement permit is required for venturing out.
“We decided to remain here so that we do not get into trouble, especially because we do not know anyone. Once when I was trying to get some groceries, I was stopped by the police and let off with a warning since I am a foreigner. Ever since, we have not ventured out of the guest house,” said Apuroop.
Dh33,000 worth of expenses
The duo have spent close to Dh28,000 on food and accommodation for three months in Morocco. In addition, the couple is still paying for their respective utilities and rents back home in the UAE. In total, the two have spent Dh33,000 in the span of three months.
“Given our unexpected extension of stay, the guest house owner has let us stay at a lower rate. However, this has still consumed a large part of our savings and we are feeling the pinch as the days pass. We also had to pay Dh3,500 on a laptop so that my fiancée could work remotely,” Apuroop told Gulf News.
The couple has experienced short-term pay cuts owing to the impact of COVID-19.
ICA registrations rejected
Apuroop and Nishalie, both with valid UAE residence visas, have registered with the ICA but their applications have been rejected so far. They have been in touch with the UAE embassy in Morocco and they have been advised to call back every two weeks for an update.
“While there have been a number of repatriation flights for citizens of the UK, US, India and other countries, besides the ICA registration, we are yet to hear of any other positive news with regard to UAE residents returning home soon,” Apuroop added.
Unpaid and stranded for 3 months
Yassine Elalaoui, his wife Sanaa and their three-year-old son Taha, all Moroccan nationals, had travelled from the UAE to their home country for a one-month annual vacation in March. Then COVID-19 struck and the family has since been stuck in Casablanca for the last three months.
Yassine has been a UAE resident for 12 years and works as an assistant production manager in an industrial food company in Jebel Ali Free Zone. He has been on unpaid leave for three months now.
“It is very hard. We are still paying a lot of expenses in the UAE such as rent, utility bills and bank loan. Plus, we have expenses in Morocco as well. I have spent more than Dh20,000 in the last three months,” said Yassine, who is currently living in his family home in Casablanca.
After contacting the UAE embassy in Morocco, Yassine was advised to register with the ICA website. After his application was rejected the first time, the Moroccan has reapplied, but there has been no update as yet.
“The situation in Morocco is getting better but the airport is still closed for regular flights. Only repatriation flights are operating from the airport now,” he added.
Separated from children, husband
N.B., a Turkish/Moroccan, has been stranded in Morocco since February 26 when she came to visit her family. She is currently staying in Rabat with her mother. Her children Harun, aged, and Mohammed, aged eight, and her husband are back in Dubai.
“My kids are waiting for me. I miss them like mad. It has been one of the worst experiences of my life,” she shared with Gulf News.
N.B runs a small beauty salon in Dubai, which is now closed since she is stranded in Morocco. “I’m running out of money. I don’t have enough cash on hand for such unforeseen expenses. My landlord even cashed my cheque for the shop rent although the mall is closed. I tried to negotiate with my landlord about my situation but they didn’t accept,” she added.
A UAE resident for 10 years, N.B too has tried to register with the ICA website several times but in vain. Her attempts to contact the UAE embassy in Morocco have also not helped address her difficult situation.