Updated: May 29, 2020 9:59:14 am
For the past month, Brijesh Mistry’s 15-year-old daughter, a Class X student in Gujarat’s Vadodara, is waking up at 4.30 am to attend online classes in Casablanca, Morocco. “The schedule has begun to take a toll; she is struggling,” Mistry, 41, says.
“The cost of Internet in Morocco is very high—almost Rs 500 per day—and my daughter has classes six days in the week… Besides, we have run out of most of the vegetarian food we brought from India,” says Mistry, a structural engineer. He is among 140 Indians stranded in Morocco since the North African country imposed a lockdown on March 20 due to the coronavirus outbreak.
In neighbouring Algeria, nearly 150 Indians are seeking help from the government to return home.
Jamaludeen, 39, a textile mechanical engineer from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, arrived in Bejaia, “about two hours away from capital Algiers”, in mid-February. On March 17, airports in the country were closed. Jamaludeen says the Indian embassy in Algiers had informed them about a common flight for Indians stranded in North African countries “soon”, but they are yet to get any update.
Mistry says he is working in Morocco for the last one-and-a-half years and was slated to return to India on April 30. “In March, my wife and two daughters came to visit me but they couldn’t return. While we somehow managed to stay here in March-April, May has been punishing,” he says. “People here speak only French and Arabic, and my family is finding it very hard to even go out for groceries.”
Mistry’s work visa expired on April 30, and since then, he says, he has been in regular touch with the Indian embassy in Rabat. He is also reaching out to officials in India through social media and emails to help him return.
Like Mistry, travel journalist Baiju Nair and vlogger Sujith Bhakthan are also waiting to return home – in Kochi – for the past 80 days. “We raised our concerns in a Facebook Live with Minister of State for External Affairs V Muraleedharan. About 60 of us (in Morocco) are connected through a WhatsApp group, and we are willing to pay for a chartered flight to take us back. But we are yet to hear anything from the government,” says Nair, who is staying at a friend’s guesthouse in Mohammedia, Morocco.
“Recently, 25 Indians were repatriated from neighbouring Tunisia. Why can’t the same be done for us,” he asks.
Amit Maheshwari, 32, a solution architect stuck in Morocco for three months, with his visa expiring on June 6, has another concern. “We are staying in a hotel where doctors treating Covid-19 patients have taken up accommodation. We are in a foreign land. If we get infected, we don’t know what the protocol is. There is a lot of rush at hospitals here. We requested the Indian embassy to provide us an alternate accommodation, but we never heard from them,” he says.
Maheshwari, whose wife and baby live in Gurgaon, says, “We sent 300 emails and 1,000 tweets to the Indian government. We also registered with the embassy here 15 days ago.”
In neighbouring Algeria, Jamaludeen says he is paying Rs 2,000 a day for hotel accommodation for two months and now fears losing his job. “My company paid for the hotel for the first month, then stopped. We tried to move to an apartment but the Algerian government does not allow people on short-term visa to rent,” he says.
On May 23, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri had stated, “I am bombarded on social media by people stranded in Morocco, Latin America, the UK and Argentina, and we are doing the best we can and adding more flights. We will increase the number of international flights in the coming days.”
The second phase of Vande Bharat mission to bring back Indians stranded abroad has been extended until June 13. It covers 47 countries. Morocco and Algeria are not on the list so far.Planning for the third phase is underway.
On Wednesday, Nair says, the embassy said that a chartered flight for about 100 Indians stranded in Morocco could be arranged by mid-June. “We hope that happens.”
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