Coronavirus: about 90,000 Indians to be repatriated from UAE with dozens more chartered and government flights cleared

More than 450,000 Indians have registered to return to their families

Indian nationals queue to check in 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

About 90,000 Indians will be home by the month-end as dozens more chartered and government repatriation flights from the UAE have been approved.

More than 450,000 Indians have registered with the consulate in Dubai and embassy in Abu Dhabi to return to their families amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Residents have urged more flights and quicker repatriations as India gradually emerges from a strict two-month lockdown.

Planes chartered by companies and welfare groups in the UAE such as the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC) have cleared the bulk of the numbers over the past few weeks.

"Starting from June 20 until June 30 we have loads of chartered flights as well as four Vande Bharat flights every day," Vipul, India's consul general in Dubai told The National.

“By the end of this month, I anticipate we will have sent 85,000, maybe 90,000 people.”

More than 80 chartered flights and at least 35 flights are expected on the Vande Bharat or Salute India mission on government carriers over the next 10 days.

According to the Johns Hopkins University tracker, India has confirmed 366,946 cases, 12,237 deaths and 194,325 recoveries.

The country had shut down international and domestic flights and suspended rail travel in March to slow the spread of the virus.

Different state governments have since announced varying guidelines on easing travel restrictions.

“These are difficult times and every state in India has different conditions so this is what we are struggling with,” Mr Vipul said.

Indian citizens evacuated from Dubai by Air India flight, board a shuttle bus to quarantine centres from Anna International Airport as part of a massive repatriation effort due to the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, in Chennai on May 9, 2020. The first wave of a massive exercise to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Indians stuck abroad began May 7, with two flights landing in India from the United Arab Emirates. / AFP / Arun SANKAR

“Ultimately the question comes as to how much is the capacity of state governments and airports to handle people.”

Wednesday was the heaviest in terms of traffic for a single day with about 3,000 people leaving on 16 chartered flights mainly to cities in southern Kerala state, to the capital New Delhi, western Ahmedabad and southern Hyderabad cities.

People keen to return to their families include the elderly, pregnant women, unemployed, people with medical conditions and those who arrived on visit visas.

Community groups, business forums, hotels, construction and jewellery companies have helped clear the backlog of people waiting to return home.

They have chartered flights on airlines including FlyDubai, Spice Jet and Indigo in co-ordination with the consulate in Dubai after seeking approvals from civil aviation authorities and state governments in India.

KMCC volunteers are working in each emirate to organise flights to the southern Kerala state that has the largest numbers seeking to return home.

Flights organised by the government on state-owned carriers are capped at about Dh750 and private chartered flights cost between Dh925 to Dh1,200.

Musthafa Vengara, acting president of the Kerala group’s Dubai wing, said the organisation has covered the fare of about 10 needy people per flight.

“The consulate has approved the chartered flights that we have organised. So many more people will get relief over the next few days,” he said.

“We are asking the Indian government to reopen normal scheduling so more people can return.”

In neighbouring Pakistan, the government has intensified efforts to bring back stranded nationals.

Yesterday, the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development (MoPRHD) announced that Pakistanis can book repatriation flight tickets directly with airlines and do not need an approval from their consulate.

Direct booking with airlines will start from June 20.

The policy applies to more than 200,000 Pakistani citizens who are stranded in different parts of the world. Of these, 54,536 are in the UAE.

Until now, citizens are required to register with the General Consulate of Pakistan in Dubai and wait for an approval before booking tickets.

So far, more than 20,000 citizens have been repatriated from the UAE.

Emirates airline and Pakistan International Airlines are currently operating flights from the UAE to different cities across Pakistan.

Dr Moeed Yusuf, the national security adviser to the Pakistani prime minister, said all airlines will be allowed to operate in Pakistan. This means low-cost Pakistani airlines, such as Air Blue, can resume operations.

He said the goal was to bring back 40,000 to 45,000 stranded Pakistanis per week, starting from June 20.