Coronavirus: UAE and India approve 15-day mission to bring stranded residents home to Emirates

Airlines will be allowed to take passengers in both directions for the first time since March

Indian nationals queue to check in at the Dubai International Airport. A massive exercise has been launched by the Indian government to bring home hundreds of thousands of Indians amid the coronavirus pandemic. AFP 
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Thousands of Indians will be flown between the UAE and India on dozens of flights that will begin next week.

The Emirati and Indian governments agreed to operate special flights from July 12 to July 26.

The Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation said the charter flights by UAE carriers will take thousands of people from the Emirates home to India.

On their return journey, these flights will bring back UAE residents who have been stranded in India since the borders closed in March.

Those coming back to the Emirates must have an ICA approval code. Indian carriers will also operate repatriation flights. These flights can take the ICA approved UAE residents to the Emirates on their outbound journey from India.

Carriers will only take bookings of passengers whose final destination is the UAE.

The flight arrangement, which is for 15 days, will be reviewed and can be extended, the Indian ministry said on twitter.

The decision has brought relief to thousands in the UAE and India who have been waiting to return to families and jobs.

Abu Dhabi resident Mahamood Punjavi, 54, has been asked by his company to head back to Kerala for a few months.

“I have been waiting for two months. There is no work and my salary is almost nothing. As soon as I get a flight I will go back to my family,” said Mr Punjavi, who works for a rental car service in Abu Dhabi and has lived in the UAE for more than 30 years.

He had secured a seat on a repatriation flight a month ago but was in quarantine after one of his flatmates tested positive for coronavirus.

“I was not ill and tested negative. But because we shared a room, I lost my chance to go home. Maybe if things get better, I will come back to UAE to work. My visa has not been cancelled but my employer asked us to go home until things get better,” he said.

Ahmed Al Banna, the UAE ambassador in New Delhi, had last week assured passenger flights would resume to the UAE.

He asked Indians stuck in their home country not to panic about losing jobs because they were unable to fly back.

In Kerala, nurse Ameen Mohammed is relieved flights will resume between the two countries.

“We are now trying to find out information about whether we need testing and if children below 12 require the PCR test,” said the 34-year-old father who works in Abu Dhabi.

His family has been stuck in Kerala since March after a short family vacation was extended to over three months as the country shutdown international passenger flights.

“I’m really worried about my job, rent, electricity and everything,” he said.

“We have had to keep paying the rent and electricity charges even though we are not in our apartment. Financially, it’s a big problem for us because my wife is also stuck with me.

“I just want to come back to the UAE and get back to work as soon as possible.”

The fourth phase of the Salute India Mission began on July 3 to take Indian residents who wanted to leave the Emirates home.

More than 450,000 Indians registered with the consulate in Dubai and embassy in Abu Dhabi and about 90,000 had returned home as of last month.

Indians in the Emirates have appealed for more flights from the UAE, which is home to the world’s largest non-resident Indian population of more than 3.4 million.