Coronavirus: stranded UAE residents react to border closures

Anyone facing travel disruption abroad can seek help from UAE embassies and consulates

Laney Hill, an American teacher who lives in Abu Dhabi, is currently in Nepal. Courtesy: Ms Hill
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UAE residents around the world have reacted to news that entry into the country has been suspended for two weeks.

Early on Thursday, officials announced that only Emiratis currently overseas would be allowed back home from midday on March 19.

The decision came as numerous countries across the world expanded measures to protect the public from the spread of coronavirus.

How UAE residents stranded abroad can return home

How UAE residents stranded abroad can return home

Australia and New Zealand also announced a ban on Thursday on all non-residents and non-citizens coming in.

The UAE’s decision was announced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation.

Officials said it was possible the suspension could be extended beyond the current fortnight and encouraged residents to seek help from embassies and consulates abroad.

They said the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (ICA) would also be on hand to offer support.

In the whole scheme of things, we will come through it. We are one family on two sides of the world and we just have to accept what it is and make the best of it.

Speaking to The National, Laney Hill, 29, a grade seven science teacher at American International School in Abu Dhabi, said she was now stuck in Nepal.

She revealed how she had rearranged a trekking holiday to the country when the UAE brought forward spring school holidays due to the outbreak.

Arriving in Kathmandu on March 11, she said she had planned to return to the Emirates this Saturday after spending eight days hiking in remote mountains.

But because of the new restrictions, she said she was no longer certain of how long she would have to remain in Nepal.

“We’re making our way back to Pokhara as quickly as possible, and then from there Kathmandu,” she said.

“Obviously, due to the nature of the journey we’re on, we couldn’t get back [to Abu Dhabi] any sooner than tomorrow morning.

“I’ve been happily working and living in the UAE for the past four years and it is my home.

“I feel completely panicked. I don’t have the materials I need to teach remotely.”

Lynn Emery, a UAE resident of 23 years, said she was also stranded outside the country.

She flew to the UK two weeks ago to visit her parents and planned to return with her 19-year-old daughter, who is finishing her first year of university. Her husband and her son, 16, remain in the Emirates.

“In the whole scheme of things, we will come through it,” she said. “We are one family on two sides of the world and we just have to accept what it is and make the best of it.

“Our problem is maybe the UK will go into lockdown in the next two or three weeks. But at least we’re together on one side and on the other side.

“The UAE is doing everything that it can and we appreciate that. We just hope we can get home sometime soon.”

Aarzoo Bhatia, 20, a medical student at the University of Liverpool, is also stuck in the UK.

Her parents, who live in Dubai, are desperate for her to be able to return home to the UAE.

“It is terrifying for her to be left out of the country,” said her mother Sonia Bhatia.

“She was brave until yesterday, but now she wants to come back home. We are trying to book her a ticket.”

Rashi Agarwal, another mother of a child stuck abroad, said she was distraught due to her son’s boarding school being closed.

She said the teenager, 16, had booked a flight to return to the country on Friday but was now left with nowhere to go.

“Please, I just want him to come back,” she said. “His life is Dubai. His home is Dubai. He has lived here all his life.

“We don’t have relatives in the UK. Where will he go? Now schools in the UK are closed, he needs to come home to us.

On Tuesday, the UAE called on its citizens living or working abroad to return home to the country amid the increasing spread of Covid-19.

The border closure to all non-Emiratis is the latest in a raft of measures designed to protect public health.

Cases continue to surge across the globe, with almost 220,000 infections at the last count.

There have been almost 9,000 deaths and around 86,000 people have fully recovered.

In the UAE, schools have been closed, events have been cancelled, and more and more people have opted to work from home.

There are now 113 known infections in the country, after 15 new cases were announced on Wednesday. In total, 26 people have fully recovered.

This week, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, said the Emirates was “faring well” thanks to early efforts to contain infection rates.