Coronavirus: Some stranded pupils and students allowed to enter UAE despite border closures

Saransh Jain, who attends a British boarding school, was among those given permission to fly home at the weekend

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Ramola Talwar: Abhishu Brahmecha, 19 at home after returning from a university in the USA. Teenagers who have been able to return to the UAE despite the suspension of entry into the country for UAE visa holders. Saturday, March 21st, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
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Young UAE residents stranded abroad have been allowed into Dubai, despite border restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

University students and a pupil aged 16 were helped by Emirati embassy staff and immigration officials on emergency grounds.

The government imposed curbs on UAE residents returning from midday on Thursday. Only Emiratis will be allowed to enter the country until next month.

I was going insane with worry. Someone was kind enough to listen

Saransh Jain, 16, called the UAE Embassy in London to tell them he was among a handful of pupils left at Haileybury, a boarding school in Hertfordshire, when the British government closed all schools and universities.

“I asked if they could help me get back to my parents in Dubai. They told me to send my documents and they would consider it,” he said.

On reaching London Stansted Airport, Saransh, who is Indian, was initially not allowed to board.

After he called the UAE embassy, instructions were forwarded to grant permission for the minor to fly back.

“At first I was not worried when my classmates began to leave. But when I was among the last few left, I did think: ‘Where would I go if borders were completely shut?’

“I’m happy to be back.”

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - Reporter: Ramola Talwar: Saransh Jain, 16, after he returned from boarding school in the UK on Saturday morning. Teenagers who have been able to return to the UAE despite the suspension of entry into the country for UAE visa holders. Saturday, March 21st, 2020. Dubai. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Saransh Jain in home quarantine in Dubai. He was stranded in England when his boarding school closed. Chris Whiteoak / The National

On arriving in Dubai, there were no family hugs at the airport. Instead, Saransh was whisked home and placed in isolation in a separate room while his family observed strict confinement.

Food and water is placed outside his door and he uses disposable cutlery. The family will also observe a two-week quarantine.

“I was going insane with worry and I sent messages on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook to His Highness for help,” his mother Rashi Agarwal, said about appeals to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.

“Someone was kind enough to listen. This is a testing time for everyone. I know the stress parents feel as they are trying to get their kids to a safe place.”

The UAE Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation has asked residents abroad to register for a new service that permits entry for passengers with valid visas in emergency situations.

Called Tawajudi, it was introduced following the decision to largely close the borders. Several countries have imposed similar restrictions including Australia and New Zealand, which barred all non-residents and non-citizens from entry last week.

Fiona Alison is among dozens of parents who took to social media and appealed to UAE officials to allow students with UAE visas entry into the country.

Her daughter, Shannon James, 18, was not permitted to board a flight at Heathrow Airport in London on Thursday, hours before the UAE order on residency visas came into effect.

“They may be 18 years old but they are still children and God forbid they get sick. With colleges closed, where do they go?” said Mrs Alison, a UAE resident for 25 years.

“They may not be minors, but the challenge is that students are being asked to vacate dorms. We appeal to the UAE that exemptions be made to allow students to enter.

“My daughter was born here – we call the UAE home. Where else will she go?”

Another family was relieved when Abhishu Brahmecha, 19, was allowed entry after a five-hour wait for approval at Dubai International Airport on Saturday.

Mr Brahmecha, a first-year student at Grinnell College in Iowa, travelled from Chicago and was booked to travel to Mumbai via Dubai.

But when his onward flight was cancelled, the student appealed to immigration authorities at the airport to permit him to exit because his family lives in the emirate.

The most stressful part was “deciding where to go if I couldn’t enter Dubai because I have to take multiple flights to reach any relative in India and there is a lockdown there too,” the teenager said.

“I went to the immigration office and approached different officers to explain this. I tried not to get tense because my dad explained that people were trying their best to help.”

We order provisions online and don't invite anyone over. We are taking care to stay in as much as possible

His father, Jatin Brahmecha, said the family were concerned by India’s decision to halt landing of international commercial aircraft from Sunday for a week.

“We were worried, because if he can’t come to us and he can’t go to India, where would he go?” he said.

“Mumbai is also on lockdown. But since nothing was in our hands I told him to relax as much as he could.”

Mr Brahmecha urged parents whose children remain stranded overseas to remain calm.

“I’m telling people to be patient instead of panicking. Even if you panic, don’t show your children,” he said.

“You need to create positivity because officials also have never handled such a situation. There is nothing designed to handle this.”

The family has stayed at home for the past two weeks, as have thousands of UAE citizens and residents, heeding the government’s appeal to help to halt the deadly disease.

Abhishu’s mother, Shilpa Brahmecha, said: “My husband travels a lot to Africa and America, so we know precautions must be taken for the community.

“We order provisions online and don’t invite anyone over. We are taking care to stay in as much as possible.”