Dubai family's joy as passports stolen on holiday two years ago are recovered

A bag theft in Italy led to an expensive three-week travel ordeal for the Francis family

Sneha May Francis, her husband Markos Abraham and their son Rafael can still barely believe their passports were returned almost two years after being stolen in Italy. Antonie Robertson / The National
Sneha May Francis, her husband Markos Abraham and their son Rafael can still barely believe their passports were returned almost two years after being stolen in Italy. Antonie Robertson / The National

A delighted Dubai family feel they were guided by the "hand of God" after passports stolen while on holiday two years ago were miraculously returned this week.

Joy at being on holiday in Milan, northern Italy, swiftly turned to despair for Sneha May Francis, her husband Markos Abraham and their son Rafael, when a rucksack containing their passports was stolen outside a cafe, hours after arriving in July, 2019.

The crime set in motion a frantic two weeks of hurried sightseeing in Venice and Lake Como, filling out paperwork in Milan, and then boarding a plane to Kochi, in Kerala, south-west India, where they stayed with family and applied for new Indian passports and UAE residency visas.

“Coming from such a safe environment as Dubai I think we were a little naive in not being more careful about our belongings in a public setting,” said Ms Francis.

I sometimes feel like those passports were taken away so I could go see my parents, and then it was given back to me after I visited them

Sneha May Francis

“We didn’t even know it was gone until we wanted to take something out of it – that’s when the horror set in.”

The situation was particularly troubling for young Rafael, only 9 at the time, who feared he would be stranded in Italy.

“When I found out the bag with the passports was missing, I was in tears,” said Rafael.

“I really thought we would have to live in Italy forever and I would never get to see my friends again. It was so depressing.”

After numerous visits to Indian and Emirati government buildings in Kerala, and more than Dh12,000 ($3,267) in expenses, the family returned home to Dubai during the first week of August, 2019.

Ms Francis said there were “tears of joy” when they finally had everything in place to fly back to the UAE.

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“We felt like we had conquered the world, it was like a heavy rock had been lifted and initially I vowed never to travel ever again,” she said with a laugh.

Fast forward to May, 2021, which brought an unexpected tale of lost and found.

Out of the blue, an official from the Indian consulate in Milan contacted the family and told them that they had traced the missing passports.

“We were shocked,” said Ms Francis. “At first we thought it was some kind of scam or joke because it’s been almost two years since the entire saga and we’ve moved on.”

The official cross-checked their story and told them they had received the stolen bag with the now-cancelled passports from Italian police in August 2019, two weeks after it had been reported missing and around the time the family returned to the UAE.

The family managed to enjoy a short period of sight-seeing in Venice before heading to India to clarify their residency status. AFP    
The family managed to enjoy a short period of sight-seeing in Venice before heading to India to sort their travel documents. AFP

“He was very apologetic about the whole situation and asked if we’d like the bag and everything that was inside it to be sent back to us to us in Dubai,” said Mr Abraham.

Package from Italy

A package from Italy was delivered on Sunday to their home, with the missing bag along with the stolen passports.

During their "unpacking ceremony", they noticed that one of the handles had been neatly cut, offering a possible clue as to how the bag was stolen from them.

“I still can’t believe it’s all here with us right now,” said Rafael. “I was so happy that I could see all the stuff that we had lost that day.”

Having old passports can help keep a track of the holder's travel history – something that’s important for Indian nationals when applying for visas.

For Mr Abraham, it was also a case of keeping a memoir of his travels.

The Dubai family search through a bag containing belongings long thought to have been lost for good. Antonie Robertson / The National
The Dubai family search through a bag containing belongings long thought to have been lost for good. Antonie Robertson / The National

Treasured memories and a hint of destiny

“For me having that old passport was partly sentimental because I had flown around quite a bit pre-pandemic and had accumulated several rare visa stamps,” he said.

“I had a chance to visit countries like Yemen, Somalia and Mali – places I don’t think I’ll ever go to again, so I’m really happy to have my old passport back.”

Mr Abraham and Ms Francis said that being reunited with their stolen possessions has given them some kind of closure from their traumatic experience in Italy two years ago.

They also said it’s made them more accepting of changes to circumstances and realise that “we’re not as in control as we think we are”.

Because their ordeal forced them to travel to India, Ms Francis was able to make an unplanned visit to her parents, something she would not have been able to do once the Covid-19 pandemic arrived.

“It’s almost like a hand of God,” she said.

“I sometimes feel like those passports were taken away so I could go and see my parents, and then they were given back to me after I visited them.

"That’s still the last time I’ve been able to meet them.”

Updated: May 23, 2021 10:50 AM

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