Despite the current ban imposed halting all repatriations of Sri Lankan nationals into the country, three flights arrived into Colombo on the 17th and 18th of July 2020 flying in selected groups of passengers from the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and India respectively.
On the 17th July 2020 an Emirates Airline flight (EK 648) brought in a group of 60 selected passengers from Dubai, whilst media reports confirmed that a further two flights one from Doha (QR 668) and another from India (AI 281) landed on the 18th of July 2020, bringing in more selected Sri Lankan nationals home.
The group of 60 passengers who arrived from Dubai to Colombo are all currently being quarantined at the Amari Hotel in Galle.
Whilst it is an encouraging sign that Sri Lankan nationals were permitted to arrive, it also left a close associate of Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa rather perplexed when questioned about the initial group’s arrival, as even he was not informed that such a private arrangement had been made.
Many expatriates who are also desperate to come to Sri Lanka from the United Arab Emirates when contacted by Colombo Telegraph also said that they were unaware that a flight as such had been arranged and had departed Dubai.
Colombo Telegraph was also made to understand that a group of Sri Lankans who travelled from Egypt to Dubai had also made it to Colombo on the same flight operated by Emirates Airline on the 17th of July 2020.
It is confirmed that a family of three had paid a whopping sum of nearly one million rupees in total to be repatriated from Dubai to Colombo.
The family of three had paid UAE Dhs 18,000, which is approximately over Rs 900,000 to an organizer in Dubai to cover the costs for air fare (Rs 600,000), PCR testing both in Dubai (US $ 300) and also for testing on arrival in Colombo (Rs 48,000 for two tests each) and also for quarantine charges in Sri Lanka (Rs 280,000). They had also paid another sum of approximately Rs 100,000 in fines for overstaying, a levy that the UAE government had introduced to those whose resident visas had been cancelled.
All Sri Lankans who departed from the UAE’s Dubai International Airport were provided with exit passes similar to those that were granted to overstayers in the UAE, during the amnesty periods.
An incoming passenger on this flight when contacted by Colombo Telegraph said that the issuance of an exit pass in this instance raises many questions, as historically passengers who depart the UAE in this manner are blacklisted from re-entering the country.
Another incoming passenger who arrived on the same Emirates Airline flight speaking to Colombo Telegraph on condition of anonymity said “Upon arrival to Sri Lanka we were sprayed with disinfecting chemicals on seven occasions. This is despite all of us obtaining and carrying valid negative PCR test reports prior to leaving Dubai. The PCR testing done upon arrival had authorities take two swabs from each nostril and also a throat swab. We arrived around 11 pm and shortly thereafter we were put in buses to be transported to Galle. The buses were stationary for almost two hours. We needed a drink of water. When we asked the driver if he had any water, we were asked as to why we were not carrying our own water. Then some ladies wanted to use the wash rooms because this recurring two hour delay in the bus and the subsequent ride to Galle was going to take several hours for us to reach the hotel. Sadly the ladies and kids were not permitted to use the toilets. This entire episode was nothing but a living nightmare. This task is being carried out by the Sri Lanka Army. But they seriously lack being able to carry out this task professionally with the civilian population. We were made to feel as if we were bringing the Covid-19 virus to Sri Lanka.”
Meanwhile a very senior Sri Lankan expatriate living in Dubai and who is currently working tirelessly in helping many Sri Lankans, speaking to Colombo Telegraph on condition of anonymity said “In the many years that I have been in the UAE, this is the first time I have seen our own Sri Lankan nationals made destitute in the UAE in such a manner. It is sad to see our own nationals with no place to go. Many of them even slept in parks at night and were taken into custody. Sri Lankans who are fortunate to be still employed have been helping their fellow nationals, as much as they could. The Pakistani government for instance has already repatriated over 120,000 of their own nationals, whilst there are over 10 flights a day that fly Indian nationals back to India. In fact even countries like Ghana in Africa are sending their nationals back home. The Ghanaian Ambassador has been working tirelessly in helping his people. As for us we have a political appointee as our Sri Lankan Ambassador in Malraj De Silva, who happens to be a close buddy of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa. He implies that he is doing his best to help the Sri Lankans in UAE, but sadly has no results to prove his worth ever since he arrived in the UAE. ‘I am doing only what the government instructs me to do. My hands are tied’. That’s what he says. It is only our government that sadly does not permit our Sri Lankans to go back home. We have over 7000 nationals that need to be repatriated almost immediately and another 20,000 who have lost jobs in the UAE that need to get back. Now they are spending little money they are left with in the UAE, instead of being able to bring it back home with them. This is extremely sad what the government of Sri Lanka is doing to its own nationals who swelled the country’s treasury all these years with their hard earned foreign currency remittances. Many who cannot continue making payments towards their existing bank loans and credit card payments will soon be thrown in jail. Some are in fact having suicidal tendencies. If this happens their blood will certainly be on the hands of the Sri Lankan government. That’s the stark truth and sadly the reality.”
The local daily newspaper in the UAE Khaleej Times publishing a story under the headline ” UAE grants 30 day grace period to expired visit visa holders who don’t exit by August 11″ stated the following ” Brigadier Khamis Al Kaabi, the official spokesman of ICA, had earlier said that those whose visit visa expired after March 1, 2020, will have one month to either change their status inside the country or leave by August 11. He also said that UAE residents with visas that expired after March 1, 2020 will have three months to renew their residency as of July 12. The advisory came after the recent UAE Cabinet decision that cancelled all previously issued resolutions related to the residency of expatriates and validity of visas, entry permits and ID cards. The automatic extension of expired visas and IDs until December this year was withdrawn.
Many expatriate Sri Lankans in the UAE have been thankful towards the UAE government’s support extended during this pandemic.
A Sri Lankan expatriate who was working for a leading bank and had lost his job during this Covid-19 pandemic and who is still stuck in Dubai said “The government of the UAE had all this time been extremely courteous and gracious in extending their kindness, help and support towards the Sri Lankan expatriate workforce. There is a limit that they could do and how much longer does the Sri Lankan government expect the UAE government to look after its own people?”
“Is it because Sri Lanka as a nation wishes to portray to the rest of the world that it has got the Covid-19 pandemic under control, yet wishes to conduct a General Election and for some unknown reason does not wish to permit its own nationals a safe passage back home?” he concluded by saying.
All attempts to contact Admiral Prof. Jayanath Colombage the Additional Secretary to the President for Foreign Affairs for a comment proved futile. (By Janaka Ranaweera)