19 Indians stuck in transit at Dubai airport hope for leniency

19 Indians stuck in transit at Dubai airport hope for leniency

They are among the thousands of citizens stranded overseas after India went into lockdown.

As the government prepares to announce plans for the next phase of the lockdown on Tuesday, 19 Indians stuck inside Dubai airport for three weeks have renewed their pleas to be allowed to return to India as a special case.

The 19 Indians, some of whom were in transit from Europe, and others who had checked in for flights from Dubai, had been turned away at the boarding gates on March 20 and March 21 by airlines officials after India put a series of travel bans in place. After spending several days sleeping inside the departure terminal, the group was taken for coronavirus tests, and once they were cleared, allowed to check into the airport hotel, said officials.

‘In constant touch’

“We have been in constant touch with some of them and with local authorities and Emirates airlines, who have put them in the airport hotel. We had also given some financial assistance when they initially got stranded. If there is any requirement of medicine, etc., we will provide that help as well,” India’s Consul General in Dubai Vipul said.

However, members of the group stuck inside the Dubai airport say the only thing that will bring comfort is knowing when they can return. “For 25 days, I haven’t been out in the sun or felt fresh air. The airport is mostly shut down, and except for short trips to one restaurant for food, we are confined to our rooms,” said Deepak Gupta, a professional with a multinational corporation in Gurgaon,who worries most for his wife back home as she is pregnant.

Note verbale

The issue of the 19 Indians, as well as hundreds of Indians who are presently stranded in in cities across the UAE, but also need to return home soon, has been taken up by the UAE government as well. On April 9, the UAE government sent a note verbale to all Embassies in Abu Dhabi, asking them to repatriate their citizens who needed to return, offering to help with flight arrangements, ensuring COVID-19 tests for them all, and hospital treatment for those found to be positive.

“This includes travellers, naturally, but also any nationals who seek to go back to their homes and families,” UAE Ambassador Mohammad Al Banna told The Hindu on Saturday.

However, India’s Ambassador to the UAE Pavan Kapoor said a day later that no Indian could be repatriated until after the lockdown had ended.

“It is totally wrong to say that we are abandoning our citizens. Once the lockdown in India is lifted, we will certainly help them get back to their home towns and their families,” Mr. Kapoor said in an interview to the Gulf News.

Reptariation planning

This week, sources said, the Ministry of External Affairs, which is coordinating the current travel restrictions, requests from other governments for medicines and the ongoing evacuation of foreign nationals, is making a presentation to the Empowered Committee on future plans for the repatriation of Indians. About 25,000 are “stranded” in different parts of the world, falling mainly into three categories of business travellers, tourists and students who have been unable to return to India in time for the lockdown, and need to return soon as they are all facing medical and financial difficulties abroad.

Officials did not rule out that an exception could be made for the 19 passengers in transit in Dubai, but said they awaited the government’s final word. The government had shown some leniency towards passengers who were stranded in transit and stuck inside airports, and had allowed a special flight from Amsterdam on March 22 and another from Kuala Lumpur on March 24 with transit passengers to enter India after the deadline for incoming passengers had expired. 

Most stringent

India is the only country to have taken the most stringent travel measure of stopping even Indian citizens from returning for fear they might carry the coronavirus.

Another problem has been a shortage of quarantine facilities for Indian passengers when they return. As a result, the government has refused to lift the travel ban, despite dozens of flights coming in to collect foreign nationals and take them home, even if it means the flights come to India completely empty. Germany, France, Spain, Brazil and Russia have already completed most of their evacuation flights, while the U.S. and U.K. have put out final calls for their nationals to register to fly back. This will mean that when India does lift the travel ban, it will also need to organise special flights to bring back the thousands stranded outside the country.

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