Repatriation flight from Dubai lands in Chennai without a single passenger while thousands of labourers remain stranded in foreign soil

Published : July 18, 2020 21:01 IST

Migrant workers from Kuwait and Dubai who arrived at the Tiruchi international airport on June 6. Photo: M. Moorthy

When EK 544, the Emirates Airlines flight, landed in Chennai at 8:13 a.m. on July 18, three hours and 47 minutes after the twin jet 777-300 ER plane took off from Dubai, it was empty but for the crew. This is not because there was no demand in the sector but because the Tamil Nadu government had imposed impossible conditions for the flight to carry passengers.

The flight went back from Chennai for Dubai at 9:50 a.m., carrying passengers who had a United Arab Emirates (UAE) resident visa. The airline, like all other international airlines, had made it mandatory for all boarding passengers to carry a COVID-19-negative certificate ahead of boarding.

The flight is considered strictly a repatriation flight, according to three people who are aware of the issue. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has allowed the airline to operate flights to India from July 18 to July 26. But the DGCA had also asked airlines to take the permission of individual State governments on the question of bringing passengers to various destinations in India.

This is happening at a time when thousands of Indian labourers and white-collar workers are stuck in Dubai and other cities in the UAE without a way to get home. Many of these labourers have tweeted, posted videos, and have called people in Tamil Nadu to highlight their plight.

Many non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and service-minded individuals have tried to bring the stranded workers back to Tamil Nadu. While there have been some “success” in this mission, a majority of labourers are still stuck in their places of work, many of them without adequate food or money. The Indian missions in these cities are overwhelmed by requests for repatriation, according to a member of the Indian diplomatic staff in a West Asian country, and want State governments to help them repatriate the stranded labourers. But this request has not been received well by the State governments. Though Karnataka had allowed stranded Indians to fly in until recently, it had stopped giving permission soon after the Bengaluru lockdown was announced.

In the case of Tamil Nadu, the Public Department is in charge of giving permissions for airlines to bring passengers into the State. Even though many individuals based in the UAE and a few based in Tamil Nadu tried to bring the stranded labourers back to Chennai on this flight, the inability of the airline to meet the conditions imposed by the Public Department meant that the plane had to fly empty to Chennai. It is unlikely that the labourers will be repatriated anytime soon.

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