As several Indians from Northeast states remain stranded amid the COVID-19 pandemic as they could not afford a flight back home, many donors stepped in to help bring them home. Sixty-six of them were provided donation of AED100,000 (Rs20 lakh) by Dubai-based company head Amiruddin Ajmal for their homebound flight tickets.
The 66 passengers were among the 171 Indians who flew on a chartered Indigo flight from Dubai to Guwahati on July 23, the second repatriation flight from Dubai to Guwahati in Assam, a state in India’s Northeast region.
“Our people from Northeast were held up in the country where we live and because God has given me enough resources to help them, me and my fellow directors decided to step in after we verified the authenticity of the volunteers,” said Ajmal, whose family traces its roots back to Assam.
Donating for their flight fares, which amount to AED1,500 (Rs30,500) each, Ajmal said he wanted to see them reunite happily with their families
“My only reason for doing this is to see people happy once they reunite with their families. Their happiness is my happiness.”
The Thursday flight was the second one after a FlyDubai chartered plane travelled for the first time from Dubai to Guwahati on July 3.
“Our first direct flight from Dubai to Guwahati was a historic one because the Northeast is not connected by any commercial flights. But ever since that flight, the number of Northeast Indians who wished to be repatriated have only grown, so we partnered again with Satguru Travel and Tourism to make our second chartered flight happen,” said Angam Keishing a volunteer.
Angam, along with a group of friends from Northeast India rallied passengers and sponsors for the July 23 flight.
“We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of people who stepped in to help… Even the bus driver from Manipur, Bobby, who travelled 18 hours to pick passengers from Guwahati, sacrificed a lot for us, and charged us a minimal fare to get the people home,” he said.
Among the donors for the July 23 flight was DPS Sharjah Grade 8 student Ananya Srivastava, who opened her piggy bank to pay for two passenger’s tickets.
“I was inspired when I heard about the group of volunteers collecting funds to send expats home who do not have the resources and the money. I desperately wanted to contribute but with my own effort and not with my parents’ money,” said the 13-year-old who used money she’d saved up to buy a pet.
According to the Indian Embassy in the UAE, more than 450,000 people have registered for repatriation. While the state-run Air India was initially the only airline allowed to operate repatriation flights, the government has since allowed private companies to fly chartered planes.
Sumon Bordoloi, a Dubai-based marketing executive from Assam, said the Indigo flight was a personal mission for him.
“There were so many people losing hope and survival was becoming a challenge for many because they had run out of money in a foreign country,” said Bordoloi.
Bordoloi, along with other volunteers from Northeast India, pooled in money to fund tickets as well as daily supplies while passengers wait for the flight.
“Many of them have been laid off by their employers, some are on unpaid leave and some were waiting to fly back because of medical urgencies. Since no commercial flights are flying to any Northeast states, this chartered flight is the only hope for many. Otherwise they will have to spend huge amount of money on mandatory quarantine if they land in any other city.”
Ngayaomi Ruivah, another volunteer, said social workers in Northeast India also stepped in to make sure the travellers were taken safely home to their respective states.
“Linda Newmai, a Naga social worker based in Delhi has helped us arrange buses to take the passengers directly from the airport so they don’t have to spend money being quarantined,” he said, adding, “To get to Manipur, for example, they would have to cross multiple state lines and all of that requires separate permits.”
After two direct flights to Guwahati from Dubai, more are waiting to be flown back home from the UAE, said volunteer David Tusing.
“The other day, we received a distress call from someone from Assam who said they no longer had money even for food. We immediately went to check on the group and did what we can to help them for the short term,” he said. “We thought our work was done after two flights. But it looks like we already have our next mission set for us.”
Liansuanlal Samte, a Dubai-based hotelier and volunteer added: “To me this mission has opened my eyes to see what we can achieve as long as we stay united. My faith in humanity has been restored after all the extended assistance we gained from our fellow generous Indians that came forward to lend their helping hand.”
(With inputs from Dubai-based senior journalist David Tusing)