Dubai - Friday's (July 3) flight was a long time in the making, said volunteers who were working towards the initiative.
A flight ferrying 189 Indians hailing from the northeast region took off from Dubai International Airport on Friday, bound for Guwahati, the capital of Assam. The special FlyDubai flight was the first-ever direct flight to northeast India from the UAE.
Friday's flight was a long time in the making, said volunteers who were working towards the initiative. "We started getting desperate calls for help in March when the flights stopped and quickly rallied community leaders to help those stranded. It's been a long struggle to finally get this first flight to take off," said volunteer Ngayaomi Ruivah, a Dubai-based graphic designer from Manipur.
Of the 189 on board, 30 passengers are from Ruivah's home state. The rest are from Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
Many of the passengers, which included three infants, were stuck in the UAE after India shut its international borders in March. A majority of them had lost their jobs in the UAE while some were visitors who could not return home after their visas expired.
Dhananjay Datar, chairman and managing director of Al Adil Group, sponsored 10 passengers while Mahesh Jaishankar, a Dubai-based businessman donated money for 12 passengers. Tickets cost Dh1,500 (Rs30,500) per head.
"We chose Guwahati because no one was taking care of Indians from the northeast. We started looking into it after we received many requests," said Gaurav Keswani, a senior corporate sales executive at Satguru Travel and Tourism. "This is the first-ever flight to the region and also the first-ever flydubai flight to that part of India."
David Tusing, another volunteer, said there are still many more waiting to go home. "We still have more than 100 stranded northeast Indians and we're planning to organise another flight to Guwahati. Since many of them have been out of jobs for months, we will need all the help we can get to take them home."
More than 125,000 Indians have been repatriated since May 7 from the UAE, according to the Indian Embassy in Abu Dhabi.