Republic Day: Indian envoy to UAE reflects on tough year for expat community

Ambassador Pavan Kapoor hopes many more Indians who left due to job losses in the pandemic will return soon

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India’s ambassador to UAE reflected on a tough year with “light at the end of the tunnel” in an address to mark his country’s 72nd Republic Day.

Pavan Kapoor said he hoped to welcome back more Indian residents who had to leave during the pandemic.

It is estimated that 1.3 million Indians left the Emirates last year, in one of the largest repatriation operations, and many were affected by job losses.

Since then, Indian officials said more than one million travelled back to the UAE, and more hope to soon. Permission is required from the federal immigration authority.

I still remember the days when outside these very gates we had hundreds of people standing and asking for help

“I know there are a lot of people wanting to come back here and resume their jobs or get back to their friends and family,” Mr Kapoor said in a speech broadcast online.

“They are awaiting ICA approvals. We are working closely with the UAE government authorities to see how we can assist.

“We will take up every such case that is brought to our notice.”

Mr Kapoor spoke of the immense strain he witnessed when many people lost jobs last year.

He hoped that many would return as the vaccination campaign is expanded and the economic growth improves.

Low-key virtual meetings were held in Abu Dhabi and Dubai on Tuesday instead of the colourful parades annually organised in schools across the Emirates.

Republic Day marks the anniversary of India adopting its constitution in 1950.

Mr Kapoor described 2020 as a difficult year during which “people have endured and suffered a lot”.

Pavan Kapoor, Indian ambassador to the UAE, says leaders of both nations have been in regular contact throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Cooperation in food security and healthcare has been enhanced between the UAE and India. Courtesy Indian Embassy, Abu Dhabi
Pavan Kapoor says the leaders of both nations have been in regular contact throughout the pandemic. Courtesy: Indian Embassy, Abu Dhabi

Workers queued outside the embassy and consulate to get on flights home.

“There was a lot of pressure. People were not sure what to do, people wanted to head back home but the skies were closed,” he said.

“I still remember the days when outside these very gates we would have hundreds of people standing, saying we want to go home or asking for other help.”

He said efforts by community associations and officials helped support those in need.

A senior Indian minister recently said more than 1.15 million Indians had returned to the UAE in the past seven months but about 150,000 Indians have not yet come back.

“We hope as the economy picks up, more people will be able to come back, resume their jobs and livelihood,” Mr Kapoor said.

Soldiers march along Rajpath during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi on January 26, 2020. - Huge crowds gathered for India's Republic Day parade on January 26, with women taking centre-stage at the annual pomp-filled spectacle of military might featuring army tanks, horses and camels. (Photo by Prakash SINGH / AFP)
Soldiers march along a ceremonial boulevard in New Delhi during the Republic Day parade on January 26, 2020. AFP

The leaders of the UAE and India have worked together to ensure food security and healthcare for all since the beginning of the pandemic.

“Right from the beginning of the pandemic, leaders of both sides have spoken to each other on a regular basis and co-ordinated policies,” he said.

“We have in two areas made sure that our contact is enhanced and our co-operation is increased. These are the areas of food security and health care.”

Despite a shutdown of international travel in March to stem the spread of Covid-19 in both countries, air space was kept open for food supplies to the UAE.

The UAE supplied medical kits to India and New Delhi sent medicine to the Emirates during the early months.

Hundreds of nurses and critical-care specialists also flew in from India to support handling of Covid-19 patients in the Emirates.

The ambassador encouraged all Indians to have the vaccine to fight the pandemic, and to stay safe after being inoculated.

“We have to make sure that even after getting vaccinated we don’t let our guard down,” he said.

“This is still a bit way off but there is clearly light at the end of the tunnel.”

At a function in Dubai, Dr Aman Puri, India’s consul general, said the community was privileged to live in a country with one of the most successful vaccination programmes. Authorities in the UAE aim to vaccinate 50 per cent of the population by the end of March.

He expressed “gratitude to the UAE leadership for their vision, compassion and care extended to the very large Indian community of almost 3.3 million in the UAE”.

Dr Puri also called on the community to join a recently launched programme to retrain blue-collar workers in the UAE and teach them basic computer skills.

UAE President Sheikh Khalifa sent a message of congratulations to Indian President Ram Nath Kovind for Republic Day.

Messages were also sent by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, and Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, to the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Dr Azad Moopen, founder and chairman of Aster DM Healthcare, urged Indians to build on the lessons of 2020.

“While Covid-19 brought our lives to a grinding halt last year, it has also brought forth resilience and strength,” he said.

“In healthcare, despite the tremendous pressure that it put on the system, it has acted as a catalyst for technology and research-led progress, much faster than what it used to be before the pandemic.”