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Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Pak airspace closed, Afghans find air tickets too steep to return home

Sitting at the travel agency office, part of a string of small shops at Bhogal, Mohammad discusses with travel agent Saeed Mustafa, also an Afghan national, the prospect of ticket prices coming down. He has around 20 days before his visa expires.

Written by Abhinav Rajput | New Delhi | Published: March 17, 2019 3:41:28 am
Saleem Mohammad Rasool is one of many Afghan citizens stranded in Delhi due to high air fares. Express

It has been a ritual of sorts for Kabul resident Khalid Mohammad (35) to visit the Afghan Travel Agency every morning, to figure out the ticket fares between New Delhi and Kabul.

He had come to Delhi three months ago for heart-related issues, and is now facing a peculiar issue. Ever since Pakistan closed its airspace following India’s airstrike in Balakot, ticket prices from Delhi to Kabul have increased threefold, and several flights have either been cancelled or re-routed.

Sitting at the travel agency office, part of a string of small shops at Bhogal, Mohammad discusses with travel agent Saeed Mustafa, also an Afghan national, the prospect of ticket prices coming down. He has around 20 days before his visa expires.

“I started developing health complications after I was hit in a Taliban bomb blast a few years ago. I even lost one of my fingers. I subsequently started developing complications in my heart and stomach,” he said.

“I’m now living with a friend in Kalkaji. I don’t have much savings left, as I spent most of it in my treatment. Ticket prices have more than doubled — from $150 to $400. If I overstay, I will be fined more than Rs 20,000,” he said.

Several Afghan nationals who come for medical treatment to the capital, and live in pockets at Jangpura, Bhogal, Sarita Vihar and Jasola Vihar, have been facing similar issues.

“The ticket prices haven’t come down. In the process, they spent more as they stayed here longer,” said Mohammad’s travel agent Saeed Mustafa.

At Sahar restaurant in Bhogal, which specialises in Afghan dishes, Saleem Mohammad Rasool said his ticket has been cancelled thrice —on March 5, 10 and 12.

“I had come to Delhi for treatment and was living in a guesthouse at Jasola Vihar. Now I have shifted to a friend’s house in Bhogal. I can’t stay there for long, but what can I do? I will have to book tickets at whatever price they offer.”

Aazar, who also lives in a guesthouse in Sarita Vihar, said he fears he might have to take refuge in a mosque due to lack of friends in India and diminishing savings.

“We come here for medical treatment because back at home, most hospitals give fake medicines and healthcare is very bad. Some people have taken refuge at masjids as they cannot afford to live in guesthouses anymore,” he said.

“We don’t expect much from our government as our country is in a destabilised state. The Indian government should help us by capping flight rates,” he said.

Travel agents said India’s airlines have suspended several flights to Kabul. Only Ariana Afghan Airlines and Kam Air are still operating some flights, which have to travel an extra distance as they cannot enter Pakistani airspace. With direct flights largely halted, many passengers are having to take one-stop flights with long transit periods.

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