India reaches out to Kuwait, UAE over possible repatriation of citizens
The UAE’s official WAM news agency reported on Sunday the government was considering possible restrictions on countries that refuse to cooperate for the evacuation of expatriate workers amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Indian government is in touch with Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates over reported moves to repatriate expatriate workers, people familiar with developments said on Monday even as some 2,500 Indians approached the missions in Abu Dhabi and Dubai for help to return home.
The UAE’s official WAM news agency reported on Sunday the government was considering possible restrictions on countries that refuse to cooperate for the evacuation of expatriate workers amid the Covid-19 pandemic. The report triggered alarm in Kerala, home to many of the more than two million Indians living in the UAE.
Kuwait has announced an amnesty till April 30 for illegal migrants and workers whose visas expired after travel restrictions were imposed to contain Covid-19. Migrants who overstayed their visas or are undocumented will be allowed to leave Kuwait without paying fines.
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There is no clarity on the number of Indians who could benefit from the amnesty, with estimates ranging from 20,000 to 40,000, the people cited above said.
“We are in touch with the UAE and Kuwait to get clarity on these issues,” said one of the people, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Some 2,500 Indians have approached the Indian embassy in Abu Dhabi and the consulate in Dubai to seek help to return home amid the Covid-19 lockdown, Gulf News reported on Monday. This includes a request from an employer who laid off around 1,000 Indian workers, the report said.
India’s ambassador to the UAE, Pavan Kapoor, was quoted by the daily as saying the missions haven’t been “bombarded with mass requests” by people wishing to fly home immediately, and most individuals who expressed an interest in returning are stranded visitors and those who had lost their jobs.
The consul general in Dubai, Vipul, said the mission had received almost 1,000 requests from people – most of them visit visa holders – who want to return to India. On Sunday, the consulate learnt about 1,000 Indian workers who had lost their jobs and the employer “got in touch to know the options to send them back home as early as possible”, he said.
WAM news agency had reported that UAE’s ministry of human resources was looking at “revising current partnerships concerning labour relations with nations refusing to cooperate with evacuation measures undertaken by the UAE to repatriate private sector expatriates who wish to return home”.
The ministry’s move came after a number of countries didn’t respond to requests by their nationals to return home. The options being studied include the halting of MoUs between the ministry and “non-cooperative countries” and the “introduction of restrictions or quotas for future recruitment”, the report added.
The Indian government had already said flights cannot be operated for some 20,000 Indians stranded around the world during the lockdown, which is now expected to be extended beyond April 14. Officials have also said the issue of evacuating Indian nationals would be taken up in a phased manner, possibly in May.
Meanwhile, in a related development, the UAE has offered to fly stranded Indians wishing to be repatriated if they test negative for Covid-19. The UAE’s ambassador to India, Ahmed Al Banna, told Gulf News that the foreign ministry had sent a note verbale or unsigned diplomatic correspondence on this issue to embassies of all countries in the UAE over the past few weeks.
“We have sent the not note verbale and all the embassies have been informed, including the Indian embassy in the UAE and even the ministry of external affairs in India,” Al Banna said, adding there was no official response from India so far.
The UAE has offered to test those who want to return. “We are assuring them also of our cooperation to fly those who got stranded in the UAE for some reasons. Some got stuck because of the lockdown and closure of airports in India. Some were visiting the UAE,” he said.
Those who test positive for Covid-19 will remain in the UAE for treatment, he said.
During his telephone conversations with world leaders on the Covid-19 crisis, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made it a point to reach out to leaders of several West Asian states, including the UAE, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, that are home to millions of expatriates.