Combating coronavirus: 'Specially approved' repatriation flights to India likely

repatriation, DGCA, coronavirus, covid-19, special flights

Dubai - Indian officials and missions in the UAE have remained non-committal on when these flights would be introduced.


Allan Jacob

Published: Thu 16 Apr 2020, 1:05 PM

Last updated: Thu 16 Apr 2020, 8:03 PM

There is a glimmer of hope for stranded Indians in the UAE to be repatriated to their home country during the coronavirus crisis as the Indian civil aviation regulator is considering 'specially approved flights'.

Indian officials and missions in the UAE have remained non-committal on when these flights would be introduced, but the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) circular is an indication that emergency flights ferrying Indians from the UAE and Gulf may be allowed before the lockdown in the country is lifted.

India has extended the lockdown until May 3, and stranded expats in the UAE, or residents who wish to go home due to financial concerns, will express a sigh of relief when these flights are introduced.

Though it is still unclear when these flights will take off, the DGCA circular issued by Deputy Director-general Sunil Kumar says: "It has been decided that all scheduled commercial shall remain closed until 18.30 GMT of May 3, 2020. However, this restriction will not apply to international all-air cargo operations and flights specifically approved by DGCA."

Furthermore, according to reports in Indian media, the Central government has also instructed Indian state governments to be prepared to welcome all those who wish to return, earlier than expected. The report said pregnant woman and children, those suffering from other illnesses, and elderly will be given first preference.

An official from Kerala Chief Minister's office confirmed that the state is well-prepared to meet the needs of expatriates even if the central government announced an evacuation today or tomorrow. "We are prepared to receive our people. We have quarantine centres and medical teams ready for them," the official said. The South Indian state has already identified at least 250,000 quarantine rooms for returning NRIs in various parts of the state.

From the UAE, though missions haven't officially begun accepting applications from NRIs wishing to return to India, Consul General of India to Dubai Vipul told Khaleej Times in an earlier interview that they have received approximately 1,000 calls and e-mails requesting evacuation. Furthermore, a UAE-based company has also asked to repatriate 1,000 workers, said Vipul.

Social groups and associations, such as the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre, are reporting approximately 1,000 people who are wishing to return as well. Most requests are coming in from job seekers, visit visa holders, expats who've suffered job losses, and families.

Earlier this month, the UAE launched the early leave initiative to enable expats to return to their home countries, but flight bans have hampered travel. Many blue-collar workers have lost their jobs and have no means of earning a living and would like to be with their families back home during this crisis. Others are stranded travellers.

There are close to 3 million Indian expats in the UAE. Indian missions here have not begun repatriation procedures like registration of those who want to leave.

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