North East passengers
A total of 68 Indian expats received free tickets to fly to Guwahati on Thursday. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: A Dh3,000 donation from a Sharjah student's piggy bank along with a Dh100,000 donation from a businessman in Dubai helped 68 stranded Indians to fly home from the UAE amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The passengers were among 171Indians from the northeast of the country who were repatriated on the second direct flight from Dubai to Guwahati on Thursday.


Dubai-based businessman and head of the Ajmal Perfumes brand, Amiruddin Ajmal, donated Dh100,000 to pay for the tickets of 66 passengers who could not afford their repatriation tickets, community volunteers who facilitated the chartered flight service said. But what also won hearts was a gesture by a DPS Sharjah Grade 8 student, Ananya Srivastava, who opened her piggy bank to pay for two more passengers’ tickets.

Ananya Srivastava Image Credit: Supplied

“I was inspired when I heard about the group of volunteers collecting funds to send expats home who do not have the resources and the money. I desperately wanted to contribute, but with my own effort and not with my parents’ money,” said the 13-year-old Indian national who was born in the UAE.

“I broke my piggy bank and collected my savings, around Dh3,000, which will pay for two tickets.”

Tickets cost Dh1,500 each

Ajmal, whose family roots trace back to Assam, said: “Our people from the northeast were held up in the country where we live and because God has given me enough resources to help them, me and my fellow directors decided to step in after we verified the authenticity of the volunteers. My only reason for doing this is to see people happy once they reunite with their families. Their happiness is my happiness.”

Amiruddin Ajmal Image Credit: Supplied

Thursday's flight was the second one after a flyDubai chartered plane travelled for the first time from Dubai to Guwahati on July 3.

“Our first direct flight from Dubai to Guwahati was a historic one because that region of India is not connected by any commercial flights. But ever since that flight, the number of Indians from the northeast who wished to be repatriated have only grown, so we partnered again with Satguru Travel and Tourism to make our second chartered flight possible,” said Angam Keishing, a volunteer who, along with a group of friends from northeast India, rallied passengers and sponsors for the July 23 flight.

“We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people who stepped in to help. We have limited means to help others and it’s only because of the kindness of others that we can make the flight happen.”

According to the Indian Embassy in the UAE, more than 450,000 people have registered for repatriation. While state-run carrier Air India was initially the only airline allowed to operate repatriation flights, the government has since allowed private companies to fly chartered planes.

Sumon Bordoloi, a Dubai-based marketing executive from Assam, said the Indigo flight was a personal mission for him.

“There were so many people losing hope and survival was becoming a challenge for many because they had run out of money in a foreign country,” said Bordoloi who, along with other volunteers pooled in their own money to fund tickets as well as daily supplies while passengers waited for the flight.

“Many of them have been laid off by their employers, some are on unpaid leave and some were waiting to fly back because of medical urgencies. Since no commercial flights are flying to any northeastern state, the chartered flight service is the only hope for many. Otherwise they will have to spend huge amounts of money on mandatory quarantine if they land in any other city.”

Help arranged back home

Ngayaomi Ruivah, another volunteer, said social workers in northeastern India also stepped in to make sure the travellers were taken safely home to their respective states.

“The journey from Guwahati to Imphal, in the state of Manipur, is 18 hours by road. So Linda Newmai, a Naga social worker based in Delhi, has helped us arrange buses to take the passengers directly from the airport so they don’t have to spend money being quarantined,” he said.

“To get to Manipur, for example, they would have to cross multiple state borders and all of that requires separate permits.”

After two direct flights to Guwahati from Dubai, more are waiting to be flown back home, said volunteer David. T.

“The other day, we received a distress call from someone from Assam who said they no longer had money even for food. We immediately went to check on the group and did what we could to help them for the short term,” he said. “We thought our work was done after two flights. But it looks like we already have our next mission set for us.”

Liansuanlal Samte, a Dubai-based hotelier and volunteer, added: “To me this mission has opened my eyes to see what we can achieve as long as we stay united. My faith in humanity has been restored after all the extended assistance we gained from our fellow generous Indians who came forward to lend their helping hand.”