Coronavirus: UAE puts key workers stranded abroad on priority list

Teachers, medical staff and airline employees were among those given the green light - but all inbound passenger flights remain suspended

Helen Smit has received approval to return to UAE but her daughter, 11-year-old Ffion, has not. Courtesy: Helen Smit
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UAE residents who were stranded abroad when the borders closed last month have begun to receive permission to return to the Emirates.

Teachers, healthcare staff and airline workers were among those to be placed on a priority list, as were university students separated from their families.

Each received an electronic receipt confirming their consent to fly from officials in Abu Dhabi.

But at present, there are no special flights to bring residents home and many expect to have to wait until commercial flights resume.

Of the 17 residents that The National reached who were given permission, all were in the job categories listed, apparently placing them at the front of a queue.

It is definitely a big step towards getting back to the UAE, but I am still unsure of how to go about returning

But in some cases parents who work in the essential sectors were given permission to travel, while their children were not. In one case, an airline pilot stranded in Europe with his 7-year-old daughter said he was given the green light to travel, but she was not.

And teacher, Helen Smit, said her daughter was still waiting to be approved too.

"I felt so relieved when I received approval as I've been checking my emails several times a day hoping for some good news," the Welsh national told The National.

“The thought of being reunited with my 2-year-old son and husband in the UAE was overwhelming as I miss them so much.

“Unfortunately, my 11-year-old daughter who is with me has not been approved and has been rejected again, so now I feel anxious as to when she will be allowed to fly. I cannot travel without her.”

Ms Smit, a teacher at British School Khuzam in Ras Al Khaimah, left the UAE on March 12 to visit her elderly mother in the UK. They were due to return to the UAE on March 20. All in bound and outbound flights were cancelled on March 19.

The mother-of-two received approval through the government's registration service, Tawajudi or 'My Location', on Tuesday, April 28 but was not given details of how and when to book flights.

Sophie B, 26, a British teacher, received confirmation from Tawajudi earlier this week.

“I'm very happy to be approved, it is definitely a big step towards getting back to the UAE, but I am still unsure of how to go about returning,” said Sophie, who works in Dubai and asked that her surname not be used.

“There has been no announcement on this front.”

Student Manal Muhammed, 19, was given permission to fly but must wait on inbound flights to resume

For more than a month she has taught pupils remotely, standing in front of a laptop at her parents' home in the UK.

“Apart from a sporadic internet connection and having to get up at 4am every day, it has not been too problematic," she said.

Manal Muhammed, 19, was among the students to find themselves stuck abroad. The Sri Lankan left the UAE to pursue her studies at Monash University in Melbourne.

It was her first time living away from Dubai, where she was born and raised.

She received approval two weeks ago and said she hoped that special flights may be allowed to fly despite the aviation shutdown.

Emirates has begun limited outbound flights to key destinations but no inbound flights bringing passengers to UAE.

Etihad was due to begin flights in May but pushed operations back to mid-June earlier this week.

“I was under the impression that once I got approval, I would be allowed to go home on a special flight as soon as possible,” Ms Muhammed said.

"It looks like everyone who has gotten approval has been told the same thing ‘book when normal flights resume’."

She said she felt “grateful for approval” and understands the efforts to contain Covid-19, but was eager to get home.

“I want nothing more than to be back with my parents during this time, especially for Ramadan,” she said.

“But it looks like it will be quite a while before I will be back with them though, weeks if not months."

Another resident, a Canadian university lecturer who asked not to be named, said she was given approval but her children have not been.

“I left Dubai for Canada on March 10 with my kids and we were supposed to return on March 19 at 6pm, a few hours before the flight ban,” said the professor.

“I was denied boarding at the airport in Canada.

“I filled out the latest forms on April 13 and I got approved on April 17, but my kids, both minors, have not.

“I’m a professor in Dubai so I think that may have something to do with my approval, but I have not heard any further details since."

Abdullah Ehsan and his mother, Afshan, said they are looking forward to reuniting. Courtesy: Afshan Ehsan

The news Tuesday that Dubai could reopen for tourists as early as July has given residents abroad some hope, though said they July was a long way off.

Afshan Ehsan, from Pakistan, said her son, Abdullah, was given approval to fly in March, but more than a month later, he was yet to travel.

"My son is 20 and is stranded in London where he was studying," she said.

"We registered on Tawajudi on March 21 and got a call from the Ministry on March 26 saying he was approved to return to the UAE but only when Emirates and Etihad flights resume.

"They told us his name would be on the Arrival Passenger Information list.

"We plead to the government to please let him come back soon."