Coronavirus: About 130,000 Indians leave UAE on repatriation flights

While many chose to stay in the UAE to search for jobs, registrations for repatriations surpassed 500,000

An Indian woman carries a sleeping child as she waits at the Dubai International Airport before leaving the Gulf Emirate on a flight back to her country, on May 7, 2020, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic crisis.  The first wave of a massive exercise to bring home hundreds of thousands of Indians stuck abroad was under way today, with two flights preparing to leave from the United Arab Emirates.
India banned all incoming international flights in late March as it imposed one of the world's strictest virus lockdowns, leaving vast numbers of workers and students stranded.


 / AFP / Karim SAHIB
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Around 130,000 Indian citizens have left the UAE on charter and government-organised repatriation flights with 100,000 of them travelling from Dubai since the coronavirus outbreak forced the closure of countries' borders.

The total number of people who registered to return home with the Indian consulate and embassy has now surpassed 500,000.

Consular officials said that, despite the high registration numbers, many have chosen to remain in the UAE to search for jobs now that more businesses are reopening.

“Not everyone of the 500,000 now wants to go back. Many people are hopeful they will find some job because of the resumption of economic activity, they now want to stay,” said Vipul, the Indian consul general in Dubai.

Some Indian residents have criticised their home country's government for not operating enough repatriation flights to cater for people who have lost their jobs and run out of money but Mr Vipul urged them to be patient.

Consul General of India in Dubai, Vipul.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)


“We all have to understand this is an extraordinary situation created by Covid-19 and we have had to take due precautions for travel back to India,” he said.

“The Indian population in the UAE is so large. In any circumstance, it would be difficult when so many want to go back at the same time and during the times of Covid-19 it is even harder.

“Overall the community has been patient and in general people have understood the nature of the problem. We have tried our best to prioritise people who need to return.”

“It has taken some time but a huge number of people have travelled back within a span of six weeks and in the next 10-15 days many more will go back.”

Over the next few weeks, an estimated 40,000 more residents will board charter planes operated by the UAE, Indian private carriers and Vande Bharat or Salute India repatriation flights.

In Sharjah, more than 200 unemployed construction workers are currently awaiting repatriation.

280 stranded workers given shelter

Sharjah Police and charity workers recently rescued the workers, who were living on the streets and at construction sites.

Putha Rajashekhar, 26, was among those given shelter in accommodation blocks used by the police during training.

He hopes to return to Hyderabad in southern India after living in an abandoned building for months.

"People have been giving us food but it was very hot and difficult living outside for months," he said.

Mr Rajashekhar was promised a Dh1,000 monthly salary by an unscrupulous agent, when he arrived in the UAE three years ago, but was paid only Dh500.

He soon left his employer for part-time construction labour jobs but the odd jobs ran out once the virus broke out in the UAE.

“We are grateful to the police for giving us a place to stay,” he said.

“But I worry because I have no money for the flight. I need to go home because my mother is ill.”

 Hundreds of homeless men were taken off the streets by Sharjah Police and charity workers last week. Courtesy: Volunteer workers

Police are working with volunteers to identify the men who wish to return home and to retrieve passports from their employers.

“Most men were duped by agents who promised them better wages than they earned at home,” said Sadath Sowdager, a volunteer with the Indian Overseas Congress Andhra wing, who has been working with community groups to deliver food to the men.

"During the lockdown, community groups have helped with food and medicines. We pooled in to assist with airfare for some workers who fell short of money but there are so many who do not have any funds for the flight."

In Abu Dhabi, shop assistant KM Abdulla, 55, has been out of work since the Madinat Zayed abaya store, where he is employed, closed for more than two months.

He gets by with provisions distributed by a Kerala community group and the Indian embassy. His flatmates, who have found part-time jobs, also share their food with him.

Mr Abdullah and has no plans to return to Kasargod, in southern India, since he hopes the store will open soon.

“I know people are going back but I will wait. If I leave, no one has any idea how and when we can come back,” said Mr Abdulla, who has worked in the UAE for 28 years and is his family's sole provider.

“We help each other. For now we have groceries. We still need help but we will manage until we all get back to work.”

The Abu Dhabi resident earned Dh2,000 per month and paid about Dh400 in rent, electricity and internet charges.

He did not pitch it to pay rent last month but his six roommates scrounged for his portion of the total Dh3,000 rent amount.

“I will keep waiting for the shop to open. I have hope,” Mr Abdulla said.