Pakistan passengers
Pakistan Consul General Ahmed Amjad Ali (left) leading the stranded passengers to the special flight at the Dubai International Airport on Monday night. Image Credit:

Cairo: Thousands of foreign workers in the Gulf countries have been flown back in recent weeks aboard emergency flights after air travel was halted due to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Gulf countries are battling to contain the virus outbreak and its economic fallout amid a fall in prices of oil, the region’s main source of revenues.

Saudi Arabia, the top global exporter, has launched an online scheme for air repatriation of expatriates and said registration is open for all nationals.

A total of 60,000 Indians have reportedly registered to return home since the Saudi scheme was launched last month.

India has recently embarked on the largest repatriation of its citizens stuck due to COVID-19 restrictions across the globe, including the Gulf. National carrier Air India is operating special flights to Saudi Arabia.

India also started this week to evacuate its citizens from Oman. The first flight with 170 passengers on board Saturday took off from Muscat to Kochi. A second flight is scheduled for Tuesday. The priority for repatriation is given to humanitarian cases and those with expired visas, according to officials at the Indian embassy in Muscat.

“While every care is taken to ensure priority is given to all those who have compelling reasons to travel, there may be last minute no-shows and replacements for which we have already kept standby passengers ready in such cases,” a source at the Indian Embassy told the Observer of Oman newspaper.

Pakistan and Egypt that have large labour communities in the Gulf have also started repatriation flights for their citizens. There are more than 13,000 Pakistanis stranded in Saudi Arabia due to suspension of international flights, according to Saudi media.

Last week, Egypt began special flights to bring home thousands of its citizens from Kuwait. On Sunday, 300 Egyptians returned home aboard one such flight and was placed under precautionary quarantine, Egyptian media said.

Egypt plans a total of 32 emergency flights to Kuwait to repatriate an estimated 5,600 Egyptians who have violated residency rules there and applied to return home.

The plan was announced last week after Kuwaiti police said they dispersed riots at two centres sheltering illegal Egyptian residents who had registered for repatriation under a pardon plan announced by the Kuwaiti government

Thousands of illegal expatriates in Kuwait have taken advantage of the pardon plan announced last month offering them exemptions from legal punishment and free home return flights as the country is striving to limit the spread of the coronavirus on its soil.