Coronavirus: Dubai motorcycle group and Sikh community help repatriate 3,000 unemployed Indians

Thousands of men are returning to India but hope to come back to the UAE when businesses reopen completely

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A motorcycle group has teamed up with a religious community to help repatriate thousands of unemployed workers to India from Dubai.

The 3,000 men had been working in construction, maintenance, car repair and transport sectors across the UAE but lost their jobs when the coronavirus outbreak forced companies to close.

Some were placed on leave without pay and had to scrape together money for food during the stay-home orders.

Others were asked to leave their accommodation and ended up living on the streets in Ajman, surviving off meals handed out by restaurants and community groups.

They contacted Khalsa Motorcycle Team Dubai, a 20-member Sikh community club, after seeing TikTok videos of them helping others with shelter and food.

“There were hundreds of us without money. Some were staying on the streets, some got food from restaurants,” said Tawindar Singh, 35, an Indian mechanic at a car repair firm.

“It started in February when the company first paid us 25 per cent less, then 50 per cent, then 75 per cent and then our salary stopped.

“They left us in our rooms and said we should stay for three months without pay and then maybe we could come back to work. How could we manage without money? We found hope when we saw our Khalsa brothers on the internet and they said they could help us.”

Some [unemployed workers] would move from place to place depending on which restaurant gave them food. When they saw our TikTok videos, they contacted us

Mr Singh earned about Dh1,000 a month at his former job. He sent most of the money home to support his elderly parents, wife and six-year-old son in Moga in northern Punjab state.

He hopes to return to the UAE when businesses restart.

“We are not leaving forever,” said Mr Singh, who travelled from Dubai along with hundreds of men and women on-board one of two Indigo airlines flights on Tuesday to Amritsar.

“I had a very good job here. At home I will take up some work so my family can eat. This is just a temporary bad situation in Dubai because of corona.”

Mr Singh was among 1,800 people that the biker club, working with the Sikh gurdwara community, have helped repatriate to cities in northern India on nine flights since June 25.

More than 1,000 more workers will board flights to India over the next few weeks.

Those who have already been repatriated included 25 workers from a group of 280, who temporarily lived in an abandoned building in Sharjah after they became homeless and were later given shelter by police.

Another 14 men who had been in prison for a variety of petty crimes have also been flown home by the community group.

“Sometimes families would get in touch with us from India and ask to send their men back,” said Sukhdev Singh, from the Khalsa Motorcycle Club Dubai.

The group has been delivering meals to unemployed workers across Ras Al Khaimah, Ajman, Sharjah, Dubai and Abu Dhabi, since March.

“Some [unemployed workers] would move from place to place depending on which restaurant gave them food. When they saw our TikTok videos, they contacted us. They would cry and say they are on the road with no food or place to stay,” he said.

“They are badly affected mentally and want to go back to their families.”

The group is working with the Sikh gurdwara in Jebel Ali to pay for peoples’ rent, flights home and to distribute packages of rice, lentils, flour, salt and oil to those who can cook in their accommodation.

Surender Singh Kandhari, chairman of the gurdwara in Jebel Ali, said he hoped regular passenger flights would resume so more people could be repatriated to India.

About 160,000 Indians have left the country on charter planes operated by the UAE, Indian private carriers and on Vande Bharat, or Salute India, repatriation services.

The number of Indians who have registered with the consulate and embassy to return home has surpassed 500,000.

“We have helped charter flights to north India and assisted families and men who were needy and those with medical issues,” said Mr Kandhari, whose volunteer group has paid the airfare for about 3,000 men and women.

“I hope the governments will start normal commercial flights so then we don’t need to charter planes.

“All these men want to come back to UAE because they know that once the economy gets better, there will be plenty of opportunities here.”

Paramjeet Singh, a construction worker who boarded a flight on Tuesday afternoon, said each day was a struggle before they contacted the Sikh group.

“When they heard we were sitting in our room for months without jobs and food, they became our brothers and helped us with rent, food and air tickets,” the 26-year-old said.

“When you are abroad if you have no job, how will you eat food? I want to see the faces of my family. But I want to come back once Covid-19 is finished in Dubai.”