India-UAE travel: Soaring airfares dampen stranded expats' bid to return

At least 19,000 workers from coastal parts of South India are still stuck in their native places



Photo: File
Photo: File

By M Raghuram

Published: Mon 15 Nov 2021, 11:33 AM

All airlines operating between India and the Arabian Gulf sector have increased their fares up to five times, including a three-fold rise to Dubai.

At least 19,000 Indian expatriates, who returned home after the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in March 2020, are unable to travel as they cannot afford the expensive air tickets.

Several stranded Indian expatriates have been without an income for over 20 months and their savings are also almost depleted.

UT Khader, who represents Mangaluru in the Karnataka legislative assembly, told Khaleej Times that he had appealed to the Union Minister for Civil Aviation, Jyotiraditya Scindia, airline companies, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to direct the banks to help those who are in dire need of money for airfares.

“Many of them will lose their jobs if they don’t report on time. These are mostly unskilled and semi-skilled workers who seek job opportunities in West Asian countries. The state governments of Kerala, Karnataka and Goa must try to subsidise airfares to the Arabian Gulf returnees to help them keep their jobs,” the lawmaker said.

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Several stranded expatriates, who are yet to be fully vaccinated, are also scared that they may not be able to get back until they are inoculated.

The Indian Red Cross Society and the district administrations of the coastal districts of Kerala, Karnataka and Goa have organised vaccination drives to tide over the looming crisis.

“So far, 9,000 non-resident Indians (NRIs), who are mostly expatriates from the Arabian Gulf region, have received the jabs. Stranded expatriates working in the Middle East belonging to Kerala and Goa have been vaccinated,” said Yathish Baikampady of Indian Red Cross Society from Karnataka.

However, the hard-up stranded expatriates are still at their wits end.

"We’re still stuck here as the airfares to Dubai have risen up to three-fold and other destinations in the Arabian Gulf nations to around five times. The carriers are clearly trying to cut back their losses because of the Covid-19-enforced travel restrictions. These are unfair profiteering practices. I’m supposed to fly to Muscat on November 19. I’ve requested one of my friends to send me an air ticket. I’ve promised to repay him after I receive my first salary. Several stranded expatriates have been getting similar kinds of financial assistance from their friends and extended family members,” said Faheem Ahmed, who works in Muscat and belongs to Moodbidri near Mangaluru.

Another expatriate, Rajesh Kunnu from Kozhikode, echoed Ahmed.

“I got the shock of my life when I saw a one-way fare between Kozhikode and Dubai at around ₹32,000 (Dh1,600). It was ₹13,000 (Dh650) when I came back from Dubai. Unfortunately, I had no money, but I needed to get back to Dubai by November 1 to keep my job as a storekeeper at a construction site. So, I had no choice but to sell off my mother’s jewellery. However, I have promised to get them back after my financial situation improves. Many [expats] from my town are on the same boat as me,” said Kunnu.

Sheik Karnire, who belongs to Kolchekambla, a quaint village in coastal Karnataka’s Udupi district, is distraught about his expired visa, which is a cause for concern for many stranded workers.

"Usually, the work visa needs to be renewed after every two years. However, many employers didn’t renew our visas after they expired last year. I plan to travel to the UAE on a 30-day visit visa and will try to get back my job. However, prior to the trip, I’d need at least ₹50,000 (Dh2,500), which, I’m afraid, is hard to come by,” said Karnine.

An official from Air India Express spoke on condition of anonymity and explained that all airline fares went up since international flights resumed following an easing of travel restrictions that were enforced because of the pandemic. He pointed out that fares have increased exponentially in some domestic sectors.

He attributed several reasons to the trend such as a spike in overhead costs, maintenance of aircraft that have been grounded over a year, hike in air turbine fuel (ATF) charges and a loss of revenue due to the moratorium on international air travel.

The up-tick in fares is likely to persist till February 2022.

reporters@khaleejtimes.com


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