With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi not announcing any specific repatriation plans for Indians stranded abroad, community groups in the UAE have expressed concerns about the swelling number of people wanting to go back home.

During a virtual meeting with state chief ministers on Monday, Modi said the thousands of Indians stuck outside the country can be brought back as long as they are not "inconvenienced and their families are not under any risk".

Indians in distress include expatriates who lost their jobs due to the economic situation caused by Covid-19, job-seekers whose visit visas have expired and tourists.

Norka Roots, the Kerala government's welfare body for non-resident Keralites, had on Sunday launched a website to accept registrations for Malayalis wishing to return home. A staggering 100,000 people, including 45,000 from the UAE, registered on the website within 12 hours.

Community groups in the UAE that have been working around the clock to care for expats in distress said the situation is getting out of hand.

Indian Islamic Centre Abu Dhabi general secretary M.P.M. Rasheed said: "At least evacuate those who are in urgent need. There are . elderly people, pregnant women and bachelors who have run out of money and don't have a place to stay. We need an urgent repatriation flight to help them.

"There are also people who have recently lost jobs, faced salary cuts or been asked to take leave without pay. People are under tremendous stress and suffer from anxiety."

Rasheed said the number of stranded cases who wish to leave is "going up rapidly with each passing day". "If expats don't have jobs, then it's better for them to return. Indian state governments must have a rehabilitation plan in place. The UAE government is doing its best, but we shouldn't burden them."

The centre, like many other associations and community groups, is providing daily food and a weekly kit of 20 essential items and medicines to those in need. "We distribute more than 2,000 food parcels daily. The number of those in need is increasing. Emirates Red Crescent is offering the centre food packets, which we hand over to the needy."

Thousands register to go back

Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC) has formed a registration wing for those who wish to be repatriated and has received over 30,000 applications.

KMCC Abu Dhabi chapter president Shukoorali Kallungal said: "People are ready to follow all kind of restrictions imposed in Indian states. Expats can follow quarantine norms back there."

Kallungal called for urgent measures to be taken. "Four people who died in the UAE recently had planned to leave as soon as restrictions were eased. They were aged people and were buried in the UAE. Their loved ones could not see them for one last time.

"We understand the situation, let the borders be sealed but exceptions must be made for the elderly and pregnant women. I appeal to the Indian government to at least have a mechanism to prioritise and fly them back. There are many who have sold everything for a visit visa and are here to try their luck. They are all in a dire situation."

Desperately seeking help

Kerala Social Centre (KSC) in Abu Dhabi is home to the help desk of Norka Roots. "We get 500 to 600 calls. There are five to six persons attending the calls. We get calls even at midnight. People are suffering and need urgent help. Till date, we have reached out to 2,500 people who sought relief," said KSC president V.P. Krishna Kumar.


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