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India-UAE flights: Stranded expats fly via Armenia after Uzbekistan tightens norms

Dhanusha Gokulan (Principal Correspondent)/Dubai
dhanusha@khaleejtimes.com Filed on July 1, 2021
Shenu George, Renjith and Sajeev, three UAE residents who quarantined in Armenia before returning to the UAE.

Travel agents recommend ICA, GDRFA approvals before travel.


Days after Uzbekistan tightened its travel regulations, UAE residents are looking at other Southwest Asian and Southeast European countries and even Ethiopia in Africa to undergo the mandatory 14-day quarantine period before returning to the emirates to safeguard their jobs, businesses and career prospects.

Uzbekistan introduced additional quarantine norms for inbound travellers on June 25 following a rise in Covid-19 infections.

Since then, very few expatriates are choosing to return to the UAE via the popular quarantine destination, travel agents have said.

Instead, stranded expatriates in India and other South Asian countries are opting to quarantine for 14 days in countries such as Armenia, Serbia, Montenegro, and in some cases Ethiopia in Africa before returning to the UAE.

From June 28 to July 12, according to the decision of the Special Republican Commission for combating coronavirus in Uzbekistan, restrictions are imposed on entry to Tashkent from neighbouring regions by vehicles (cars and buses) in the absence of an urgent need.

The UAE has suspended inbound travellers from India and other South Asian countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka since April 24 and May 13, respectively. Thousands of desperate travellers have chosen to return to the UAE by quarantining themselves for 14 days in other countries that figure on the green list.

ICA, GDRFA approvals highly recommended

Travel agents are recommending that these categories of travellers get pre-travel approval from the General Directorate of Residency and Foreign Affairs (GDRFA) in Dubai and the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (ICA) in Abu Dhabi before returning to the UAE.

Agents have said a few UAE residents had to travel back to India from Armenia and Uzbekistan as their ICA status showed ‘red’ at immigration in the quarantine destinations.

Raheesh Babu, group COO of Musafir.com, an online travel agency, said it has become a lot more challenging to get landing permits and charter flights to Uzbekistan.

“Earlier, UAE residents enjoyed visas on arrival to Uzbekistan. Now, Uzbek authorities have become selective about offering visas. Also, there is a fear that Uzbekistan might go into lockdown due to an uptick in Covid-19 cases. People cannot go out of their hotel rooms,” he said.

“Armenia is growing in popularity as the e-visa needs to be applied for before departure,” he added. Babu said that to date, over 1,000 stranded Indian expatriates have opted to travel via these destinations. “Another issue is the ICA status. When some expats have red as their return immigration status, their Advanced Passenger Information (API) does not get the required approvals. Many have had to return to India. I strongly suggest that travellers get a positive status on their ICA and GDRFA approvals,” he added.

Travellers hope UAE will reopen soon

Agents also said that the ongoing uncertainty over when UAE residents might be able to return from India has resulted in people losing confidence on the Uzbekistan route as well. “After Dubai announced that travel will be allowed on June 23, several passengers cancelled the via route and decided to wait till UAE reopens. However, now there is no clarity on when travel would resume. Is it July 7 or July 21? No one is able to give a definitive answer,” Babu added.

Afi Ahmed, the managing director of Smart Travels, said, “There’s little demand to use this via route for travel. Also, UAE resident visas need a three-month validity period if they’re travelling via Uzbekistan. Many passengers do not have this visa status.”

He added, “Armenia is gradually becoming another popular destination. However, people are hopeful that the UAE government will soon reopen direct flights. Most people are waiting for this to happen.”

'Spent Dh 9,000 to quarantine in Armenia'

Some residents, who travelled via Armenia, said they chose the central Asian country over Uzbekistan to avoid local quarantine.

Shenu George, a resident of Ajman, who works in a bank in Dubai, had left the UAE in April for his annual leave. “My return was planned for April 29. I waited all of May and finally, on June 5, I left for Armenia. I came back to Dubai on June 21. I’d taken both doses of the Covid-19 vaccine from Dubai prior to departure. However, my family is still stuck in India. I spent Dh 9,000 on the circuitous trip,” said George.

dhanusha@khaleejtimes.com

author

Dhanusha Gokulan

Originally from India, Dhanusha Gokulan has been working as a journalist for over ten years. For Khaleej Times, she covers NRI affairs, civil aviation, and immigration issues among other things. She completed her BA in Journalism, Economics and English Literature from Mangalore University in 2008 and is currently pursuing her MA in Leadership and Innovation in Contemporary Media at the American University in Dubai. In her spare time, she dabbles with some singing/songwriting, loves food, and is mom to an over-enthusiastic Labrador retriever. Tweet at her @shootsprintrite.





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