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Combating coronavirus: Over 13,000 Afghan expats repatriated from UAE Filed on May 3, 2020 | Last updated on May 3, 2020 at 09.15 pm
Combating, covid19, coronavirus, Over, 13,000, Afghan expats, repatriated, UAE

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The diplomat said Afghanistan is one of the first countries to fly out their stranded citizens in such huge numbers.

Over 13,000 Afghan expats who were stranded in the UAE because of Covid-related restrictions have been repatriated till date, the Afghan Consul-General Masood Azizi told Khaleej Times.

The diplomat said Afghanistan is one of the first countries to fly out their stranded citizens in such huge numbers.

"We value our great friendship with the UAE, and we do not want to be a burden to this country when it is fighting this global pandemic."

Azizi said with people living in clustered accommodations where 15 to 20 people share a room, the UAE government has had to deal with emerging safety concerns.

"We believe it is our responsibility to repatriate our citizens and ease the burden on the UAE, hence, the prompt decision by the Afghan government to fly our citizens back home," he said.

There are more than 80,000 Afghan nationals living in the UAE.

Azizi said among the first to be evacuated were 63 transit passengers, who were stuck at the Dubai International Airport after the UAE stopped in-bound and out-bound air travel to stop the spread of coronavirus.

"A chartered flight sent by Afghanistan evacuated all passengers as early as March 27," the envoy said.

A total of 58 Afghan prisoners, who were released by the UAE authorities, were also repatriated in the last few weeks.

Helping workers

The bigger challenge for the mission was having to deal with thousands of Afghan workers who wanted to go home, as they were were either laid off or on visit visas.

"There were hundreds of Afghanis who came to the UAE on visit visas and also on expired documents. With the Covid-restrictions, many were unable to find jobs. Some were sleeping in car parks without any means to sustain themselves," said the consul-general.

The diplomat said the mission immediately activated a citizen protection programme and opened a 24-hour help desk for people to register to go back home.

"There were different categories of people. Some had money to buy tickets and wanted to go. There were hundreds who did not have any money and wanted to leave. Some had expired passports. Some were living without valid documents."

Azizi said the mission began a large-scale expatriation process after collecting data.

He said more than 500 Afghan workers were sent home free of cost on chartered flights, while thousands flew back in commercial flights operated by flydubai and Air Arabia.

"The process is ongoing. A total of 177 people flew home on May 1 and, on May 3, another 174 people flew to Afghanistan."

Thanking the UAE government, Azizi said the repatriation would not have been possible without the cooperation of UAE.

"This is an example of great cooperation between two countries. The UAE has sent a medical aid shipment containing 20,000 testing kits. We have also submitted a list of essential medical supplies that Afghanistan needs to fight this crippling virus.

"The UAE is a great friend of Afghanistan and we will never forget their support in the development and prosperity of our country," said Azizi.


Anjana Sankar

Anjana Sankar is a UAE-based journalist chasing global stories of conflict, migration and human rights. She has reported from the frontlines of the wars in Yemen and Syria and has extensively written on the refugee crisis in Bangladesh, Iraq and Europe. From interviewing Daesh militants to embedding with the UAE army in Yemen, and covering earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks and elections, she has come out scathe-free from the most dangerous conflict zones of the world. Riding on over 14 years of experience, Anjana currently is an Assistant Editor with Khaleej Times and leads the reporting team. She often speaks about women empowerment on her Facebook page that has 40,000 plus followers.

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