Imphal: The second repatriation flight carrying at least 171 passengers belonging to Northeast India on Thursday successfully arrived in Guwahati, Assam from Dubai on Thursday. This is the second direct flight from the UAE to the Northeast that transported stranded people from the region residing in the Emirates.
Dubai-based businessman and head of the famed Ajmal Perfumes brand, Amiruddin Ajmal, had donated AED 100,000 (equivalent to about Rs 20 lakh), to pay for the tickets of 66 passengers who could not afford their repatriation tickets. Each air ticket cost Rs 30,500 from Dubai to Guwahati.
The 171 passengers, including 41 from Manipur, flew on a chartered Indigo flight from Dubai to Guwahati. The special flight was only the second direct flight from the UAE to Assam in India’s Northeast region, a destination often ignored by many of the repatriation flights since the COVID-19 crisis began.
“Our people from Northeast were held up in the country where we live and because God has given me enough resources to help them, so myself 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.
“My only reason for doing this is to see people happy once they reunite with their families. Their happiness is my happiness,” he added.
The Thursday flight was the second one after a FlyDubai chartered plane travelled for the first time from Dubai to Guwahati on July 3 and brought home at least 189 stranded people from the region.
“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 who, 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. We have limited means to help others and it’s only because of the generosity of others that we can make the flight happen, informed Angam.
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 sum to get the people home, he added.
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 passengers’ 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 the money she had saved 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 who, along with other volunteers from Northeast India pooled in their own 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 amounts of money on mandatory quarantine if they land in any other city,” he added.
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. “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 from Manipur 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.”
Earlier on July 3, at least 189 stranded people from Northeast India arrived in Guwahati in Assam with the first direct flight from Dubai. This was the first flight to the region and also the first FlyDubai flight in India, said Ruivah, a Dubai-based graphic designer hailing from Manipur.
Ruivah, along with two other youths from Manipur and currently residing in the Emirates, initiated and raised funds of over Rs 7 lakh. The amount was used to sponsor 23 stranded persons from the region to be sent back home by the flight on July 3.
Of the 189 on board, 30 passengers were from Manipur. The rest were from Assam, Nagaland, Meghalaya, Tripura and Mizoram.
The flight was a long time in the making, said Ruivah added.
“We started getting desperate calls for help in March when the lockdowns began and quickly rallied community leaders to help those stranded. It’s been a long struggle to finally get this first flight to take off,” added Ruivah.
According to Ruivah, the special FlyDubai repatriation flight which took off from Dubai was organised by Satguru Travel and Tourism, who worked with Dubai-based volunteers.
Many of the passengers, which included three infants, were stranded after India shut its international borders in March following the global Covid-19 crisis. A majority of them had lost their jobs in the UAE while some were visitors who could not return home after their visas expired.