Travel agents who issued their tickets told Khaleej Times that it is “highly likely that they will have to return to India”.
At least 23 passengers who recently arrived from India are reportedly stranded at the airports of Abu Dhabi and Sharjah because of some ‘confusion’ about pre-travel approvals, Khaleej Times has learnt.
Five passengers, who landed in Abu Dhabi on an Etihad Airways flight on Saturday, and some 18 travellers who arrived in Sharjah on board Air Arabia early Monday morning said they were “not being allowed to enter the country”.
Travel agents who issued their tickets told Khaleej Times that it is “highly likely that they will have to return to India”. The Abu Dhabi flight was from the south Indian state of Kerala, while the other took off from Lucknow.
The passengers and travel agents suspect that they were not allowed to exit the airports because they did not receive a ‘green OK to travel’ status from the ICA when their documents were verified on the uaeentry.ica.gov.ae website.
Instead, the passengers received a ‘red’ message that reads: “We will consider the possibility of rescheduling your travel date after 60 days to preserve your safety. We thank, and appreciate your understanding.”
On August 12, the National Emergency Crisis and Disaster Management Authority announced that as part of the second phase of ‘Residents Return Programme’, stranded residents do not need pre-approval. However, they need a PCR Covid-19 negative certificate.
The ICA also recommended that passengers check their status on the website ahead of their travel.
A number of airlines have recently issued statements saying passengers returning to Abu Dhabi and Sharjah do not need ICA approvals.
Khaleej Times has reached out to Etihad Airways, Air Arabia, and the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (ICA). A response is awaited.
‘Our names are not in the system’
Passengers who spoke to Khaleej Times over the phone on Sunday said immigration authorities are refusing them entry because “their names are not in the system”.
They said they booked tickets and boarded the flight based on the latest advisory from airlines, saying that pre-approval is not needed to travel back to the UAE.
“I had applied for the ICA approval 13 times and got rejected every time. So, I was happy when I saw the announcement that pre-approval is not needed. My company also told me to come back following the latest announcement. But, I am stranded at the airport since yesterday,” said Babu Parappurath, an Indian expatriate from Kerala.
A firefighter in an Abu Dhabi government company, Parappurath said he travelled to India on March 9 and got stranded because of Covid-triggered travel restrictions.
Another stranded passenger, Mithun, a technician from Kerala, said he was taken by surprise by the turn of events at the airport. “I did not expect this. The airline staff or the airport authorities in Cochin did not stop us while boarding. Everything went smooth. But now we are here at the airport, not knowing what to do,”
A passenger who wished to remain anonymous said five of them are “held back at the airport and are being asked to go back to India”.
“The authorities are telling us that we will be sent back on another plane. Luckily, Etihad is providing us with food and water. We slept in the lounge last night. Our jobs are at stake if we go back,” said Parappurath.
‘Ailrines are keeping them comfortable’
Lasith Kayakkal, a co-owner of Deena Furniture in Sharjah, said two of his employees are among the 18 passengers who stranded at the Sharjah airport.
“The airlines are keeping them comfortable; they are giving them food, water, and all other amenities. We have been trying to work things out with the airport authorities. However, it looks like they will have to return.”
According to Nishad Chandrashekhar, another stranded passenger, he had to travel several hundred kilometres to get his Covid-19 negative test result.
Sudheesh TP, general manager of Deira Travels, said, “The only thing we are requesting is clarity on the exact process that should be followed so that issues such as these can be avoided.”
He explained: “Many passengers are returning under desperate circumstances by taking out loans and travelling long distances to get their Covid-19 tests. As agencies, we are now telling our customers to practise diligence before planning their travels.”
Afi Ahmed, the managing director of Smart Travels, said: “One passenger who landed in Sharjah from Kozhikode was asked to return on Sunday. However, we are now routing a lot of our travellers to fly into Dubai on flydubai since they issued a circular on Thursday that states no ICA or GDRFA approvals are needed. All our passengers are landing without any issues.”
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