MUMBAI: After being stranded in Chennai for over three months, Satyan Iyer (name changed) was so determined to fly back to his family in UAE that he set aside geography and spent close to Rs2 lakh for a journey that will have three carriers fly him from Chennai to Hyderabad to Mumbai to London and finally to Dubai. He left Chennai at 2 pm on June 24 and is expected to land in Dubai on June 26, 7 am, local time.
Iyer arrived in Chennai on March 11 after a four-hour, 30-minute flight from Dubai. Then the pandemic struck. However, he decided he couldn’t afford to stay back any longer when he heard his wife cough on recent phone calls. “She claimed it was sinusitis and cold, but it freaked me out,” says Iyer. That’s when he decided to put his five-year UK visa to good use, pay Rs 1.60 lakh for the Indi-Go, Air India and Emirates fare and reach Dubai, after hopping across three cities.
But for thousands of UAE-bound Indians stranded in India since March, there are no viable options yet to fly back. Air India’s Vande Bharat Mission flights aren’t an option.
On Wednesday, Air India in a press statement quoted a June 23 UAE government guideline under which, “transportation of passengers (UAE nationals and non-UAE nationals) on the repatriation flights is not allowed.” Air India said passengers who hold a valid UAE residency permit or work permit will now need to get specific approval from the UAE embassy in Delhi and UAE ministry of foreign affairs and international cooperation apart from fulfilling an earlier criteria of getting two other approvals from two UAE authorities (ICA and GDRFA) if they had to board the Vande Bharat Mission flight to UAE.
“But getting a letter from the UAE/Delhi embassy is close to impossible for thousands of UAE resident visa holders stranded in India. We know through social media platforms that people stranded in Pakistan, UK, Canada, US, Sri Lanka have managed to fly back to UAE with just an ICA and GDRFA permit,’’ said Kavita Kaur (name changed on request).
She is a member of ‘The Support Group’, a messaging platform formed on WhatsApp and Telegram Messenger, with about 1,100 UAE-bound people stranded in India as its members.
“By a conservative estimate, over 8,000 people are waiting to fly back to UAE, not including the blue-collar workers who are the worst hit,” Kaur said.
Another group member added, “We have been held hostage in our own country.”