Consular officials hope to repatriate about 1,000 citizens of the Philippines stranded in the UAE due to suspended flights to Manila.
Pregnant women, children and those nearing the end of their stay on short-term visas were among 325 passengers on board a government-chartered flight on Wednesday.
Philippine authorities barred entry to passengers travelling from the UAE and Oman on May 15, to curb the spread of Covid-19 in the country.
Flight restrictions have since been extended to the end of June, leaving hundreds of people who had planned to return home stranded in the UAE.
"We are receiving new requests from people to be added to the repatriation list all the time," Paul Cortes, consul general of the Philippine consulate in Dubai, told The National.
“Abu Dhabi has its list of nationals and we have ours. There are about 1,000 people [in total] still waiting to return home.
“These are people whose flights have been cancelled for the last six weeks or so and want to go home, either because they are sick and need healthcare or their deadline to leave the country due to their visas expiring is fast approaching.”
On June 1, a Cebu Pacific Air flight departed for Manila from Dubai International Airport. Another repatriation flight operated by Philippine Airlines left yesterday.
Consular officials said a third flight should be available to repatriate more people back home by the end of the month.
An online system has been set up by the consulate for those requesting repatriation.
Assistance from the Philippines government only covers the air ticket. Any overstay penalties incurred have to be settled with the UAE immigration authorities before applying for a flight ticket.
Borders in the Philippines remain closed to travellers from India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Nepal.
Transiting passengers are not affected by the restrictions, with Emirates and Etihad continuing to operate scheduled services to the Philippines through the UAE from non-restricted destinations.
All repatriation flights are co-ordinated between the Philippine Embassy in Abu Dhabi and Consulate in Dubai.
Of the total 325 Filipino expatriates on Wednesday’s flight, 129 were from Abu Dhabi and 196 from Dubai.
“A number of children were on the flight, accompanying their mothers who were either pregnant and returning home to give birth or out of work due to the pandemic,” said Mr Cortes.
"Hopefully we will have another flight by the end of the month so we can accommodate the growing list of repatriation request that we have.
“If things open up on July 1, it will not mean everyone can fly back then. There will be a priority list for those who registered first.”