Coronavirus: Flights from India to UAE will relaunch soon, Emirati ambassador says

Ahmed Al Banna promises expatriates stranded in India of an early access to air travel home

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UAE residents who are stranded in India should expect flights home to begin in the coming weeks, the Emirati ambassador to New Delhi said.

Ahmed Al Banna said the many thousands waiting to return would soon be reunited with their families in the Emirates.

At present, only special Air India repatriation and private chartered flights are allowed to operate  – and they cannot take passengers in the other direction.

Even those who secured permission from the UAE's immigration authorities cannot return until passenger flights are given the green-light.

"I don't think that there should be any sort of panic among the community," Mr Ahmed Al Banna told The National in an interview.

Our leaders in UAE have mentioned many times in past - no expatriate community has contributed more to building UAE than India's has

“In India, there are indications to open international flights in the coming month and UAE airlines, particularly Etihad Airways, recently announced plans to increase scheduled flights to several destinations from next month to major cities in India, like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kochi.”

UAE residents in India have appealed to both governments to hasten the process so they can return to their jobs and families in the Emirates.

Many Dubai residents were cleared to fly within minutes this week when Emirates Airline and the General Directorate of Residency and Foreigners Affairs opened a permission-to-return website. Others have approval from the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship.

The UAE and India closed their borders and halted all flights in March to tackle the spread of the coronavirus.

Ahmed Al Banna, pictured in The National's podcast studio in 2018, said the UAE was grateful for the role played by Indian medics. Kevin Jeffers / The National
Ahmed Al Banna, pictured in The National's podcast studio in 2018, said the UAE was grateful for the role played by Indian medics. Kevin Jeffers / The National

While special chartered flights have begun from India to the UK, US, Canada, Australia and Europe, services to the UAE have not yet started.

Tens of thousands of Indian citizens are being repatriated from the UAE under government-run campaigns called 'Vande Bharat' or Salute India.

The Indian consulate in Dubai said more than 90,000 expats will have been flown home by the end of this month.

Mr Al Banna acknowledged that several community groups and organisations have hired private chartered flights to bring people from UAE to India.

"Their priorities are pregnant women, senior citizens with medical issues, and those with medical emergency in the family," he said.

As part of the battle to contain Covid-19 infections, critical care doctors and nurses have flown to UAE from India in the past two months to take pressure off their colleagues in hospitals.

The UAE embassy had arranged for those workers to be flown in.

Mr Al Banna said the effort has set a new standard in international relations.

“Their extraordinary contributions to assist healthcare professionals and governments in mitigating the threats of Covid-19 have set a new benchmark in international diplomacy," he said.

“This collaboration reflects the deep-rooted relations between UAE and India and also highlights the extremely collaborative nature of our healthcare sector to join hands to tackle this pandemic.

"Our leaders in UAE have mentioned many times in the past – no expatriate community has contributed more to building UAE than Indians have."

The fourth batch of 57 medics to work with Dubai Health Authority, Dubai's ambulance service and Aster Healthcare, were flown in on June 13.

Earlier, 172 healthcare staff from the Apollo Hospitals Group, 88 medics of Aster Healthcare and 105 medics of VPS Healthcare arrived in the UAE on flights arranged by the embassy, he said.

The country has also sent medical aid to India.

A plane with seven tonnes of medical supplies flew out last month to assist about 7,000 medical professionals in India.

“UAE assistance to India comes in recognition of the profound and brotherly ties our two countries have shared through the years,” the ambassador said.

“The UAE is committed to extending critical support to nations seeking to bolster their fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Combating Covid-19 has become a primary global concern, and we act out of our conviction that strengthening the efforts of other countries to contain the virus is a pressing necessity.”