Back home, kin of those Indians stuck in UAE struggled without loved ones
Returnees tell how a group of Good Samaritans helped them get back safely amid pandemic
Special charter planes landed on Tuesday and Wednesday with over 200 passengers, including pregnant women, youngsters and elderly, from Dubai. They have brought back harrowing stories of lakhs of Indians stuck in Dubai and other parts of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). mid-day spoke to two such returnees about their experiences.
Many who lost their jobs were asked to vacate their houses in UAE and have no way to return home amid no flights Abhijeet Shinde, 30, a resident of Wagle Estate in Thane holds a degree in hotel management. He went to Dubai on February 27 in search of a job as his restaurant business here did not work out and he had loans to repay. His pregnant wife mortgaged her jewellery, including her engagement ring, to arrange Rs 2.50 lakh for Shinde's travel.
"I shared a room with a friend and saved on rent. However, when I reached Dubai, it was already in the middle of a crisis. There were no jobs. The COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent lockdown made things worse," said Shinde.
Shinde had a tourist Visa valid till May 25. It was only post-lockdown that Shinde met Haji Bhai, a Malabari Keralite, who runs a restaurant Al Safeena at Hor Al Lanz, Dubai and gave him a job. Shinde wanted to cook Chinese cuisine, the way he had done in Thane. But he was given the choice of chopping onion or vegetables.
Al Safeena restaurant in Dubai where Shinde worked for 15 days
"I opted for onions, without knowing that it would be 30 kg of onions to chop daily. I had no option but to take it up as my money was getting exhausted. I worked for 15 days and was paid 300 dirhams (around R6,000)," Shinde said.
"I was frustrated and had decided that even if I do get a good job in Dubai, I won't take it up. I was getting more depressed with every passing day with no money for food or rent. My landlord was also pressuring me to pay up. I had at one point decided to commit suicide during the pandemic as the scope of returning home was also growing less," he said.
Shinde's life took a new turn after his wife delivered their daughter on May 2. "My wife had to bear all the expenses. I was eagerly waiting to return to India but the flight was rescheduled thrice — from June 30 to July 2 to July 12 and then finally cancelled. I had no hope of returning. On top of that, my landlord also told me to vacate the house," Shinde said.
God sent a Good Samaritan
Shinde then contacted the United Konkan Community, a group of individuals from India working in Dubai for decades and helping distressed Indians from Konkan and the rest of the state get repatriated through special charter flights.
Khalid Mukadam of the United Konkan Community
"Since I had nowhere to go, I phoned Khalid Mukadam, who is active in the United Konkan Community. I told him of my plight and he sponsored a hotel room for me to stay in for two days. I will always be indebted to him," Shinde said. However, his struggles haven't ended as he still has a Rs 7.5 lakh-loan to repay and lenders demanding their money. "The only thing I got for my wife and daughter is a chocolate worth 10 dirhams and a soft toy of the same price," he added.
"I will never forget the Dubai visit. It will give me strength to start a new life. I will look for a job once the lockdown lifts and give my family the best," Shinde said.
Four months in Abu Dhabi
Farhat Shaikh, a Parel resident, visited Abu Dhabi for her daughter's delivery and ended up staying there for four months.
Farhat Shaikh (in blue) with other passengers
"When I had booked my return ticket to Abu Dhabi, little did I realise that I would get stuck there for over four months. On March 5, I travelled to Abu Dhabi to visit my daughter, who was due to deliver. However, the lockdown hit on March 25, and the real trouble started.
"Back home, my family was struggling without me. As each day passed, my fears, anxiety and apprehensions grew, particularly because of the ban on international travel. My husband, a senior doctor, was finding it difficult to cope without me. I had left the house under the supervision of my elder daughter, Dr. Shifa, who is an allergy and asthma specialist. I had a return flight to Mumbai on April 18, which never materialised. Then, I learnt about the Vande Bharat repatriation flights to India. I registered for those through the Indian consulate in UAE but my name never came up for any flight," Shaikh recounted.
Shaikh then got to know of the United Kokan Community, which arranged for chartered flights to repatriate pregnant women, jobless Indians and those stuck like Shaikh. The flight was cancelled twice.
"The United Kokan group worked tirelessly to ensure that the flight takes off on July 14 morning. I had apprehensions and uncertainty, but I found the group to be extremely helpful, courteous and very warm. They provided us with breakfast at the airport. We landed at Mumbai airport at 2. 30 pm. I was pleasantly surprised to observe the efficiency of the Mumbai international airport authorities too," Shaikh added.
She later got to know that pregnant women were exempted from quarantine at hotels and were allowed to quarantine at home.
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