Thousands of stranded UAE residents set to return home from South Asia

Expats rush to gain approval for flights and buy tickets after restrictions were eased

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The first passenger flights from six countries that were on a restricted list were due to touch down in Dubai on Thursday, as thousands of UAE residents looked to get home after months stuck abroad.

Flights from Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Peshawar and Karachi were among those scheduled to land at the country's busiest airport.

On Tuesday, Emirati officials said UAE residents in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Nigeria and Uganda could apply to return.

Expats who were abroad when restrictions were imposed, largely due to the Delta variant outbreak in their home countries in April and May, scrambled to apply for permission from the UAE's ICA and GDRFA immigration authorities and catch the first flights home.

It was not clear how many managed to get permission within the first 24 hours - and airlines could not say how full their planes were expected to be on Thursday - but at least a dozen were advertised as set to fly.

Fully vaccinated UAE visa holders are eligible, as long as they received the vaccine from clinics in the UAE. In addition, unvaccinated residents can return if they are school pupils, teachers, university students, lecturers, medical workers, and people who work for federal and local government.

Teacher to return as new term approaches

Kanak Raju, a teacher at Delhi Private School Dubai, flew to Chennai in Tamil Nadu in July with his wife and daughters, who are 13 and 11.

He had to travel because of a family emergency and knew he could not return until the authorities lifted restrictions.

"My brother died last year and I had to return home for some important rituals. I knew it would be difficult to travel back but this was something I could not postpone," Mr Raju told The National.

He is due to fly home to Dubai on August 22 - in time to make the start of school term on August 29.

He was sympathetic to fellow travellers who have been stuck in India since April 24, when the UAE banned most passengers, except for diplomatic staff, Emiratis and people with golden visas.

"People have been stuck here for months,” he said.

"There are some pupils and nearly 76 teachers and staff members from our school stuck in India.”

To return, UAE residents must apply for permission to travel a portal run by the federal immigration authority ICA.

It emerged on Wednesday that Dubai residents must also apply, separately, to the General Department Residency Foreign Affairs (GDRFA), Dubai's own immigration department.

Emirates, which has operated services from India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka for a handful of exempt passengers in recent months, scheduled a dozen or so flights on the first day of restrictions being lifted.

Other airlines sought to schedule flights, selling tickets through local travel agents and leading to one-way ticket prices rising from about Dh1,000 to about Dh2,000 in some cases.

These included two flights from Chennai, leaving at 4am and 9.50am, and three flights from Mumbai to DXB at 4.30am, 10.10am and 7.20pm. Two flights from Delhi were listed as departing at 11am and 4.15pm on Thursday.

Other Emirates flights from Pakistan are available from Karachi and Peshawar to Dubai on Thursday. One flight leaves Karachi at 3.25am and another at 12.20pm, while a flight from Peshawar is available from 9am, landing in Dubai at 11.20am.

Flights from Sri Lanka are also available with Emirates. Those looking to return to Dubai can book on the 10.05am flight from Colombo on Thursday, or the 3.15am flight on Friday, August 6 arriving at 6am.

Etihad said: "As some restrictions will ease from August 5, we are working to resume flights as soon as possible for eligible guests to travel to the UAE and for transit."

Updated: August 5th 2021, 10:59 AM
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