Omanis are contributing their money to pay for the flights of hundreds of expatriates who cannot afford the air fare to return home amid an economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
There are an estimated 2,500 foreign residents stranded in the country who were either self-employed and went out of business because of the coronavirus lockdowns, or who left their jobs and are no longer eligible to have their air fares paid by their employers.
“We have raised over 37,000 rials (Dh368,500) to help pay the airline fares for more than 300 Indians and Pakistani residents to travel back home. The money was collected in different neighbourhoods in Muscat by 12 different individuals,” said Ahmed Al Masroori, 63, a retired civil servant who was one of the people collecting funds.
“The reason why we help them because we see them struggle without food and unable to pay for their living quarters," said Qassim Al Rawahi, 67, another former civil servant involved in the project.
"They knock on doors looking for odd jobs or just something to eat. We are doing this out of humanitarian reasons.”
Many of the self-employed expatriates seeking to leave were in the retail business and left without income for months after the pandemic hit Oman. Among them is Vijay Koshi, a fruit and vegetable seller in Muscat who was forced to close his shop in in mid-July.
Mr Koshi said that after paying his dues to the government and his sponsor, he did not have enough money for a flight home to India. Adding to the problem is that air fares have increased drastically during the pandemic – more than twice the normal amount in some cases – and that flights are limited.
“These flights cost between to 80 to 110 rials one way, depending on the destination in India, but the travel agents charge up to 250 rials. They take advantage because of the long procedures involving the repatriation process,” said Mr Koshi.
Expatriate workers who abandoned their employers had their fines waived by the government in June but were told they would have to return home at their own expense.