Stuck in UAE without a job for the past 44 days, Harjinder Singh Gill (35) cheered the news of the Union government deciding to get back stranded Indians from the Gulf region in 26 flights. But his hopes dashed faster than they had surged.
“I was happy that the government had started evacuation of those who wanted to return home. But all my happiness vanished as at least Rs 25,000 is needed for a ticket,” said Harjinder over phone, adding that he has no money left with him. The 35-year-old from village Gagewal in Barnala’s Tapa subdivision had reached Abu Dhabi, the capital city of UAE, in January and started working as a truck driver. He had worked for one month when his company shut down on March 25 due to the pandemic. His days since then have been spent sitting idle in a room provided by his company that he shares with nine other youths from Punjab.
“Doctors are asking people to maintain physical distance. But how can ten-odd people huddled in a small room maintain it? Coronavirus pandemic is spreading fast in UAE and several of us are forced to live either in dingy rooms or in open sheds, while sharing common bathrooms,” he said.
Over the last few days, over 4,000 Punjabis have already registered on a state government portal, apart from others applying directly to the India consulates, requesting that they be brought back to India from the Gulf countries. But Harjinder, and many like him who are left with no money due to loss of employment and unpaid salaries, are not among those.
Neither are Harpreet (26) and Harbhjan (43) from Nakodar in Jalandhar. Both of them are also stranded in Abu Dhabi without a job for over 40 days. What’s worse, they claim that were not paid salary for several months of work done before the pandemic hit.
Gurjit Singh (33), who hails from Kapurthala, also wants to come back, but says he sees no hope till the governments back home take up the case of those stranded with unpaid salaries.
Harjinder, meanwhile, said that he had contacted Dubai-based SarbatDa Bhala, a philanthropist organisation which has been rescuing several stranded Punjabis in Gulf countries and sending them home.
“Government move of sending a couple of dozen flights to the Gulf countries will not serve help much as numbers of stranded Indians, including several Punjabis, who want to return are in lakhs,” said Dubai hotelier, S P Singh Oberoi, who runs Sarbat Da Bhalla.
In February, Singh revealed, he had sent back 29 youths, including 19 from Punjab, five from Haryana, four from Himachal, and one from Delhi after paying penalty amount (for their overstay) and bearing their ticket cost. Singh said that he had been regularly receiving emails requesting help to move out. He shared one such email in which Amit Kumar (31) from Punjab, who wrote that he, along with 20 others, was stranded at Abu Dhabi after their company had sacked them and kicked them out from accommodation provided to them. All of them now want to return, but are without any money.
A senior officer in the Consulate General of India, Dubai, while speaking to The Indian Express, said that from Dubai and Abu Dhabi around 1.50 lakh Indians, including Punjabis, have registered with the Indian consulate to return home. The officer said that majority of them were those who did not get salaries for the past over 6 to 9 months and cannot afford return tickets. However, he underlined that only those who have emergencies would be sent back on these special flights, while others will have to wait for normal flights to start.
Oberoi, meanwhile, said that the government should quarantine all those who are being brought back from any country to keep cases under control in Punjab.The Dubai-based hotelier added that he had got reports that several Punjabis were dying in Gulf nations due to coronavirus.
Punjab man dies in Dubai
The bhog of a migrant worker from Ludhiana who had died due to coronavirus in Dubai was performed by his family on Friday.
Balwinder Singh (37) had died after falling from a high-raise building at Al Barsha in Dubai on April 16 while he was working at a height of 150-ft.
Following his death, he was tested COVID-19 positive. His brother, Manjit Singh, who is sarpanch of Balliwal village in Ludhiana said that after a long wait for his ashes, they performed the ‘Bhog’ (last rites) of his brother at their place.
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