Emirati astronaut Sultan Al Neyadi has thrown his support behind a UAE-wide campaign to help fire-ravaged Australia.
Dr Al Neyadi, who was part of the back-up flight crew for Hazza Al Mansouri’s historic mission to the International Space Station last year, joined a humanitarian convoy from the Emirates who visited an emergency centre in New South Wales.
The state has been among those hardest hit by the devastating blazes which have been burning fiercely for months.
The ongoing crisis has touched the hearts of people across the UAE and the rest of the world, but is particularly poignant for Dr Al Neyadi.
He previously studied in the country, earning a PhD from Griffith University in Queensland, and has been deeply affected by the plight of a land he once called home.
In a series of Tweets to his thousands of followers, Dr Al Neyadi said he was "overwhelmed by emotions of support and love to the country where we all studied”.
“I and a group of other Emirati professionals visited Australia in solidarity and compassion," Al Neyadi wrote.
"The scale of destruction is palpable. But together, we stand. Please join us in showing solidarity with Australia throughout this crisis," he added, using the hashtag #mateshelpmates.
He also posted a Nasa image taken from space showing the smoke plume over eastern Australia.
Dr Al Neyadi visited the Cooma Country Emergency Operation Centre and an emergency shelter in New South Wales alongside Zayed Al Saqqaf, representing the Ministry of Defence; Nuclear Reactor Operator Sara Al Khouri, from the Barakah Nuclear Energy Plant; and lawyer Samiha Al Raeesi, from the tourism authority.
Wearing ‘Mates Help Mates' t-shirts emblazoned with the Australian and UAE flags, they received a briefing from one of the emergency controllers and posed for photographs with other volunteers.
The Emirates Red Crescent and the Australian Red Cross, together with the Australian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, has launched an appeal for Emiratis to donate to a bushfire fund for victims and families who had lost loved ones, homes, and livelihoods in the fires.
The appeal was accompanied by a moving video on social media, which contained heartfelt messages from both Australians and Emiratis.
"The bush fires in Australia are not an Australian problem. It is a problem for the world, we are showing solidarity with Australia throughout this crisis, help us out – spread the word on social media #mateshelpmates,’’ the video message says.
Dr Ahmad bin Abdullah Humaid Belhoul Al Falasi, Minister of State for Higher Education and Advanced Skills and Chairman of the UAE Space Agency - who also studied in Australia - also pledged his support.
"We stand in solidarity with those affected by the tragic forest fires in Australia, the country I lived in for years during my Master’s and PhD studies,’’ he wrote.
Earlier this week, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, vowed that the Emirates would provide vital manpower, expertise and financial aid to the stricken nation.
Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Co-operation, said on Thursday that there was a groundswell of support for Australia in the UAE.
“A grassroots movement is growing in the UAE community to support Australia at this time," she said.
"Burj Khalifa, Etihad Airways, Emirates Airlines and many others are showing that ‘#mateshelpmates.''
She held talks with the Australian Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton to coordinate and determine the type of support needed.
Dr Mohammed Ateeq Al Falahi, secretary general of Emirates Red Crescent, said discussions had been held with the Australian Red Cross about how best to help those who had lost loved ones, homes, and livelihoods as a result of the fires burning across Australia.
At least 26 lives have been lost, millions of animals killed, and thousands of homes destroyed during the raging bushfires.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has thanked the UAE for its steadfast support.
In a tweet, Morrison said, "Thank you UAE for your condolences and offers of support."