Students fly back to UAE as return of residents begins

Authorities said residents would now be allowed to travel back to the country

Vilma Bagui with Marianne Bagui, who is stuck in the UK and will be coming back to the UAE on a repatriation flight tomorrow. Courtesy: Vilma Bagui
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Parents in the UAE have told of their joy as they prepare to reunite with children stranded abroad for months.

Dozens of UAE residents have begun to board flights back to the Emirates after the country’s borders reopened to people with valid residency visas on Monday.

They have been overseas since the UAE closed its borders in March in an effort to stem the spread of Covid-19.

N Rustagi, an Indian parent, was relieved that his daughter Rakshita would be able to travel to UAE when they secured approval this week.

Rakshita Rustagi, 19, is a first-year economics student at Ohio State University in the United States. The student has a residency visa and was due to land in Dubai on Monday evening, with her family travelling from Abu Dhabi to receive her after months of separation.

Rakshita Rustagi,19, is a first-year student of economics at Ohio State University. Courtesy: Rakshita Rustagi
Rakshita Rustagi,19, is a first-year student of economics at Ohio State University. Courtesy: Rakshita Rustagi

Ms Rustagi was scheduled to return to the UAE on March 21 but had to delay plans when officials halted entry into the country for non-Emiratis on March 19.

“She did not have any accommodation arranged and had to stay with friends," said Mr Rustagi.

“We were worried as the condition in the US was getting worse and she was alone.”

Gopal Chandak, an Indian finance official in Dubai, was concerned when his 18-year-old daughter, Sakshi, a student with Arizona State University, vacated her dorm but was unable to travel to the UAE in March.

Ms Chandak stayed at a family friend’s home but will be travelling to the UAE on Thursday.

“We got the approval on Sunday and our daughter is coming back,” said Mr Chandak.

“The authorities are trying to help everyone but there is a huge number of applications.

Mr Chandak said he is looking forward to having his family back together.

“When the family is together those are the most beautiful moments, especially in times like these.”

Gopal and Archana Chandak with their daughter Sakshi and son Govind. Courtesy: Gopal Chandak
Gopal and Archana Chandak with their daughter Sakshi and son Govind. Courtesy: Gopal Chandak

Ms Chandak, 18, said she was nervous about her 30-hour journey from Boston via Chicago to Dubai.

"I have to first go to Chicago and I am scared as I have an 8-hour-layover. I will wear a mask and gloves at all times, and avoid using toilets. I will take a home-packed meal," she said.

"I’m happy to be coming back. I have missed out on so much family time."

Among Monday's excited travellers was Marianne Bagui, 23, who was studying at Oxford Brookes University in the UK.

She boarded a flight to Dubai from London and is eager to be reunited with her mother and two brothers.

"It was so unbelievable when I got the approval as we have been getting rejected and have applied 10 times. I am so excited now and cannot wait to get home," she said.

She was at Gatwick Airport on March 19 when the UAE closed its borders.

Her family applied for her to return on the Twajudi service and kept rebooking her ticket until she was granted permission to come back.

“I tried to leave the UK on March 19 and could not. It was so disappointing for me when I got the news," she said.

Marianne, who is studying for her bachelor's degree in international hospitality management, was living in university accommodation, but after everyone else left, she moved in with some friends.

She said she was nervous about her flight, which was due to take 13 hours, and was unsure if she would be asked to quarantine at home or in a hotel for two weeks when she arrived in the UAE.

“If I need to be in quarantine, I am OK with that as I have heard that the government is taking care of people and the tests are being done systematically. Also, this makes me feel safe," she said.

"I have missed my family so much, so I am happy to be reunited with them."

Her mother, Vilma, 50, is said she was also excited to see her daughter.

“In the UK, the situation is quite bad and my daughter was at a dorm when everyone started leaving so she was left by herself," Ms Bagui, a Filipina who has lived in the UAE for 15 years, said.

"I have been waiting every day at the portal for my form to be accepted."

“I am excited to have all the family at the same table soon."

She said had been anxious for her daughter to be granted permission to return.

“I’m very thankful for all the efforts being made to repatriate people," Ms Bagui said