Mumbai, New Delhi, June 30:
Despite much publicised “Vande Bharat Mission” (VBM) being implemented by the Union Government to evacuate Indians stranded abroad, over 200 Indians from North Eastern states remain stranded in UAE, due to heavy airfare and absence of direct special Air India flight to Guwahati, the biggest airport in the North East.
The expats from North Eastern states including Manipur, Nagaland, Mizoram and Tripura, working mostly in hotels, Spas and fashion shops in Dubai and other cities, have become jobless in the last few months and are struggling to return to their native states. They include a sizable number of girls.
The victims include Calvin Joute who was working as waiter in a hotel in Dubai on monthly pay of 1800 Dirhams and lost his job in February. Similarly Ngamzamang Lhungdim, who was working in an international fashion chain in Abu Dhabi, as a senior sales associate, on a monthly salary of 4000 Dirhams, resigned since his employer asked him to proceed on leave without pay. Both of them are from Manipur.
Now most of the expatriates face a threat of cancellation of their visa, since visa extension granted till December 2020 is applicable only to those whose visas have expired before first March 2020. The fine for overstay is 200 Dirhams for the first day and 25 Dirhams per day for subsequent days. If they convert their visas into tourist visas, they have to pay 2000 Dirhams, which again is a costly affair. This has put them in a bind.
To tide over the difficulty, at the behest of the “Purvanchal Pravasi Milan” (PPM), an outfit formed for cultural amalgamation of the people from Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand, in UAE, the “SpiceJet” had agreed to run a special flight to Guwahati from Dubai on 29 June, with tickets costing around Rs 26,000 per passenger. However, the number of tickets booked did not meet the expected number of 170 passengers and eventually the flight had to be cancelled.
Many had registered their names to travel by above special flight. However they could not pay the charges of tickets, due to want of money since most of them have lost their jobs after a lock down was imposed by UAE, due to COVID-19 pandemic from April onwards. Most of them are staying with their friends. They were expecting support from their respective state governments, but no one volunteered to help, Leo Tharmi Raikhan, a Mumbai based activist coordinating the evacuation mission on behalf of the fellow North East Indians said.
A group of volunteers from the North Eastern states comprising David, Lovejoy, Ngayaomi, Angam, Bryan, Maro and Lian coordinated with PPM, to help the expatriates to return to their states. Subsequently a Zoom meeting led by David and Angam was also held in which the stranded expatriates voiced their concerns. Linda Newmai, a social activist from Nagaland who joined the meeting assured them that she would take the issue with respective state governments and the Central Government to ensure their return.
Although over a lakh Indians from other parts of the country returned to India and landed in major cities including Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Kochi, by nearly 160 flights till now, those from North Eastern states continue to languish in absence of direct flight to North East. Since May only two flights from Kuwait and Russia landed in Guwahati. No direct or feeder flights have been arranged for expats coming from the N/E region. The expats who are in financial difficulty and eager to return home, are hoping to get a sponsor to foot the heavy air fare.
In the meanwhile in response to a tweet by David Tusing, a Dubai-based journalist originally from Manipur, who submitted a list of expatriates from North East India stranded in the Gulf countries, Manipur Chief Minister Biren Singh on Friday replied ”Will pursue the matter with urgency. Thanks for sharing the list. We will overcome. Jai Hind (Long live India)”, giving a glimmer of hope to the expatriates.
Raju Vernekar is a Media Professional based in Mumbai and is a regular contributor of Imphal Times. He had served as Chief Reporter at Free Press Journal (1996 – 2015 ). His Activities includes writing for different news papers, script writing/production for TV channels, Films Division. Writing poems in Marathi, Hindi, English, Guiding mass media students and helping people to solve their problems. Raju may be contacted at [email protected]