Coronavirus: UAE residents stuck abroad reunited for Eid

Abeer Raza, 20, was reunited with her family on May 13 more than six weeks after the UAE closed its borders

Ghena Aswad, left, pictured here with her father, Saad, landed at Abu Dhabi International Airport on May 13. Courtesy - Ghena Aswad
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The prospect of spending Eid Al Fitr alone in her dorm room was a daunting one for third year university student Abeer Raza.

The 20-year-old undergraduate never imagined a global health pandemic might postpone her Dubai family reunion.

But less than two weeks before the celebration, she was stuck thousands of miles from home in Toronto, Canada, without approval to fly home.

By “some miracle” and after a lot of “sleepless nights” in her student halls, the Dubai-born Pakistani national made it home to the Emirates on May 13.

This year, she said Eid will be “different” but one she will “forever be thankful for”.

"During times like these you just want to be with family, I was pining for mine," she told The National.

I received my approval to fly on May 11 and I landed in the UAE less than 48 hours later, on May 13, much to the relief of my loved ones

“Because of the global lockdown restrictions, I lost all hope of getting home in time for Eid.

"By some miracle, I was lucky enough to receive my approval to fly on May 11.

"I landed in Abu Dhabi less than 48 hours later, much to the relief of my loved ones.

“It just all unfolded so quickly.”

Like thousands of UAE residents and students, Ms Raza was abroad when the government closed its borders to contain the spread of infection in March.

The decision threw her travel plans into chaos. Her hopes for an early May return were dashed when her original flight home was cancelled.

And when she attempted to fly back before the March 19 flight suspensions, she was unable to secure a seat.

Studying a Bachelor’s degree in Science at the University of Waterloo in Canada, Ms Raza applied for a re-entry permit to the UAE via the Twajudi service in March and again in April.

Like many, she kept receiving the rejection notification before a flight approval was finally issued on May 11.

“This will be one of the most memorable Eid’s for me because it almost never was,” she said.

Rabia Fatima, Asif, Muhammad Ali, Fareen Rizvi, and Abeer Raza.(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

The Raza family reunited in time for Eid. Reem Mohammed / The National

“Due to the pandemic and curfew it won’t be same kind of celebration but what is most important is that I’m with my family.

“We’ll be dressed in our traditional Eid outfits making the food we love together, that’s the best thing I can ask for.”

The UAE government announced people with the required visa could start returning to the country from June 1.

Third year university student Shaila Sharmin could also reunite with her family earlier than expected.

The 22-year-old Bangladeshi was studying computer science in Malaysia when the UAE borders closed.

“Initially, we thought the lockdown would only last a few weeks so I wasn’t that worried at first, then the situation just spiralled,” she said.

“When my university shut down on March 18, I really didn’t think I’d be able to get back to Abu Dhabi in time for Eid because the Twajudi approval process was quite troublesome.

“Seeing my parents at the airport when I landed was so surreal, like an early Eid gift.

“I’m still in self-quarantine at home so it will be a quiet celebration this year but I’m home and I’m happy.

“It would have been a very lonely Eid if I got stuck alone in my university room.”

Like Ms Sharim, British national Ghena Aswad almost gave up hope of being reunited with her family for Eid.

The 19-year-old traveled to the UK in January to complete her semester at the University of London and was due to fly back to Abu Dhabi on March 20.

“That plan turned on its head after the flight shutdown was announced,” she said.

“I went to the airport a day before my flight to see if I could get an earlier departure.

"After five hours in a customer service queue I had no luck.”

In a twist of fate, the student, who holds a valid UAE residence visa under her father’s sponsorship, applied for her re-entry permit to the UAE twice before receiving approval on May 8.

“It was crazy because that same night my dad called and said he didn’t think there was any hope of me getting home before Eid,” she said.

“One hour later, my grades for university came out online and I did really well.

“An hour after that my approval to fly came through, it was like everything just fell into place.”

Ms Aswad landed at Abu Dhabi International Airport in the early hours of May 13 to “claps and cheers”.

And although she opted for hotel quarantine due to concerns about putting her elderly parents at risk, she said Eid will be "special this year".

“I’ll be in my hotel room but I have my outfit sorted, I’ll get some food and treats delivered to my room and I will be celebrating with my family on zoom," she said.

“I know I won’t be with them in person but I’m so close to them and I am thankful for that as I know many are still miles away from loved ones.”