The UAE-based parents of children under 12 stranded in India are in a tight spot with multiple airlines refusing to accept unaccompanied minors.
Starting July 12, Indians wanting to return to the UAE have been given a 15-day window to travel back on the condition that they have valid residency permits. They also have to produce a negative Covid-19 test result.
But parents of minors said they are feeling helpless as children are unable to avail of the travel opportunity despite having return permits.
"It has been more than three months since my daughter has been stuck in India. We have GDRFA approval for her but the airlines are not accepting her booking, saying she is under 12," Poonam Sapre, a Dubai-based mother, told Khaleej Times.
Her daughter Eva Sapre, 10, is in Hyderabad and is awaiting a reunion with her parents.
"She is just 10 and it has already taken an emotional toll on her. She is eager to come back and is asking me every day about her return. This is so frustrating."
Barring Emirates and Etihad, other airlines including flydubai, Air Arabia and Air India Express are not accepting unaccompanied minors. With India extending the travel freeze till July 31, normal flights are yet to resume and only special flights are allowed between India and UAE under a bilateral agreement.
Sapre said only flydubai is flying the Hyderabad-Dubai route, and the carrier has restrictions on minors travelling alone. "My daughter is too young to fly through indirect routes," claims the mother.
When Khaleej Times reached out to the airlines for comment, they confirmed that such rules on unaccompanied minors were already in place even before Covid-19 travel restrictions came into effect.
Another Dubai-based distressed parent, who did not want to be named, said her eight-year-old son is in Kerala and is unable to fly due to airline policies on unaccompanied minors.
"I called up Air India Express and they said this has been their rule even before the Covid-19 outbreak. I am appealing to them to re-consider and make an exception during these trying times so that our children can come home safely," she said.
Faced with this eventuality, some parents are forced to fly out of the UAE so they can accompany their children on the flight back home.
An Indian mother, who is currently in Mumbai, said she flew out of Dubai on Monday morning solely for the purpose of bringing back her twin daughters, aged 10.
"I had no choice. Ideally, they could have travelled together, but under these circumstances I thought it best to get them with me personally," said the mother.
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