No scope for NRIs to return during coronavirus lockdown: Indian envoy in UAE
Indian missions ready to set up quarantine facilities in UAE.
Indian missions in the UAE are keen to play their role in helping the local government set up and manage quarantine facilities to isolate affected Indians, Pavan Kapoor, the Indian ambassador to the UAE, told Khaleej Times on Saturday, but added that there was “no scope” of immediate repatriation of non-resident Indians.
“There is no scope for repatriation [until the lockdown in India ends],” the envoy told Khaleej Times. The ambassador reiterated the Indian external affairs ministry’s stand that “at this stage, it is not possible to let any flights come in.”
Responding to the pleas of Indian expats from various quarters for their government to intervene to get them back, Kapoor said it can be considered on priority basis when the lockdown is over.
“There is no question of abandoning our citizens,” he said. “That is the last thing on our mind.”
“We, in fact, want to protect the families of Indian nationals who are here. Because when people go from here, they will end up infecting them.”
“We do not want to discriminate people based on their nationalities. No one is allowed in or out during the lockdown.”
The envoy admitted that there are logistical challenges in repatriating expats as “they have to be quarantined for 14 days when they land in India.”
“The government of India does not want more people to come in at this time because we have no option but to put everyone in quarantine when they enter the country. And that will put greater pressure on our system. Let us first deal with what we have now and bring it under control.”
The envoy told KT that the Indian embassy and the Consulate have identified commercial and schools buildings owned by Indian nationals in the UAE that can be offered to the government, who may then convert them into quarantine centres so as to accommodate vulnerable expats living in congested accommodation, and thus prevent the spread of Covid-19 coronavirus in the UAE.
With the UAE deploying rapid and mass testing, the number of cases are on a rise in the country, and Kapoor said Indians, being the largest community of expats in the country, are getting affected proportionately.
“There are a lot of places and camps where people are affected and are living in close clusters. So, we have offered that both in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, we are prepared to work with the UAE health authorities and create isolation centres for our community. We only need the go-ahead.”
An estimated 3.2 million Indians live in the UAE, which is home to more than 180 different nationalities.
The ambassador said a panel of Indian doctors has been set up to assist people in need of medical counselling. “Anybody who contacts us through the embassy helpline is being referred to these doctors and they are spoken to and given medical advice.”
“We greatly value and appreciate the efforts of the UAE authorities to look after and medically treat our nationals during the international pandemic and have full faith in their abilities to continue doing so,” he added.
“If there are any positive cases that are not getting medical attention [for some reason], we are raising it with the Ministry of Health immediately, and in most cases they are responding.”
Meanwhile, Kapoor said the embassy is leading the charge and bringing together community organisations to assist people in need during this crisis. “We are offering assistance in terms of delivery of food and provisions, and also providing accommodation on a means-tested basis. The ICW fund is also being used to help distressed workers. If the amount gets too large, we will seek permission from Delhi,” said the envoy.
So when and how will NRIs be able to return?
On March 24, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi ordered a nation-wide lockdown for 21 days, halting the movement of more than 1.2 billion Indians as well as any tourists or visitors. The lockdown was supposed to end on April 14 but is expected to be extended, according to recent reports from India.
Once India opens the airspace, people will be given priority based on urgency and need, the ambassador said.
“But at this stage, we don’t know whether it will be done through commercial flights or chartered flights. We are not accepting any registrations (for expats willing to go back) simply because we do not know what and how this is going to happen. We do not want to raise expectations when there is no clarity.”
UAE has implemented an Early Leave system for the affected expatriate workforce willing to go back home but retain their visa.