The Pakistan government last week said that it would begin a phased lifting of the lockdown due to its effect on the economy and the workforce. Photo: iStock

COVID-19: As repatriation process begins, Indians in Gulf left with tough choices

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Tejas Jodi Lal from Kerala has been given priority over others to take the first flight back home as he has lost his job in the United Arab Emirates. The company, which he was working with in Abu Dhabi, closed down and he was sent on unpaid leave.

“I dont have money to support myself here, so there is no choice but going back home,” he said, while queuing up at the Abu Dhabi International Airport to board the Air India Express special repatriation flight to Kochi on Thursday.

While the flights to home, for which the priority list is being prepared by the Indian consulates and embassies across the Gulf region, are answering the prayers of someone like Lal, not everyone has been that lucky.

Prashant, who is a cleaner by profession, has also been laid off and he is now confused about what he should do next. “I have to leave Dubai, but then I am not sure when I can. I didnt apply online to be allowed a flight seat because even if I land in India, I will be quarantined for two weeks. And, I will be jobless after that. I am scared though as to what would happen if I catch the virus,” he told PTI.

On Thursday, a flight with 177 Indians onboard is scheduled to leave Dubai for Kozhikode. The passengers include 11 pregnant women, distressed workers, elderly people and three individuals who have been stranded at the airport.

The Indian Embassy in Riyadh has announced that five more flights are scheduled to operate in the coming days. While one flight will operate on Friday from Riyadh to Kozhikode, the other will fly on May 10 from Riyadh to Delhi. On May 12, a flight will operate between Dammam and Kochi and May 13 another will fly from Jeddah to Delhi. Another flight is scheduled on May 14 from Jeddah to Kochi, however, it is yet to be confirmed.

While these flights are catering to the immediate needs of a few, there is anxiety among those who dont have immediate travel plans. Shirish Sundar (name changed on request) had finalised plans to move to Delhi by January-end. However, the plan was put on the back burner because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“With my father above 65 who has a pre-existing medical condition and a doctor brother fighting the pandemic on the frontlines, I am anxious to be closer to my family. But, even if I land in Delhi now, there is hardly anything I can do,” he said. The Indian expatriate community of approximately 3.42 million is reportedly the largest ethnic community in the UAE constituting roughly about 30 per cent of the countrys population, according to information available on the Indian Embassy website.

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The Indian missions in the UAE finalised the list of passengers, who were chosen based on the compelling reasons they submitted while registering their names. The Indian Embassy in Riyadh said the schedule of the flights are being prepared by it and the Consulate General of India in Jeddah.

“This is based on the data-base of the online registration of Indian nationals launched on April 29, 2020. We are prioritising individuals on the basis of exigencies, such as distressed workers, urgent medical cases, pregnant women, stranded Umrah pilgrims, among others,” the Embassy said. As many as 60,000 registrations for travelling to India have been received and it would take time to accommodate the large number in the flights, it said.

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