When he was among the first Indians to get a tourist visa issued by Dubai last week, Nihal Mubarack’s heart filled with hope and happiness as he was joining his parents and siblings in the UAE.

However, the medical student, who was stranded in Kerala, and his family in Sharjah, never imagined what he would encounter.

Nihal and another co-passenger, Shamna Kasim, a young pharmacist, who was flying to join her husband and family in the UAE, were offloaded minutes before they were set to board a flight to Dubai from Calicut International Airport.

Speaking over phone to Gulf News, which had covered his family’s delight when he received his visa last week, Nihal said his initial concern if he would be allowed to fly vanished when he was issued a boarding pass and received the immigration clearance stamp.

However, when he was at the waiting lounge of the boarding gate, the airline’s staff told Nihal and co-passenger Shamna, who was also travelling on a tourist visa, that they cannot board the flight.

“It happened just minutes before we were to board the flight. The immigration officials suddenly informed the airline staff that they cannot allow us to fly,” said Nihal.

Harrowing experience

He said the duo were then asked to return to the departure area and their boarding pass and immigration stamp were cancelled.

“We tried to argue that the UAE government has no issue in letting us fly into the country and I even showed them the report that featured my visa story. But they said the Indian government is not allowing people on tourist and visit visas to fly to the UAE.”

The offloaded passengers had to wait for another 45 minutes and they returned home after receiving their checked-in baggage.

“Luckily, my relative who had come to drop me had not left the airport. So, I returned with him.”

In Shamna’s case, her father and her husband’s cousin who had dropped her at the airport had to return to pick her up again as they had left after she finished the immigration clearance, said her father-in-law Abdul Jabbar.

Families pained

Both Abdul Jabbar and Nihal’s father Dr Mubarack Valiyakath said the families were pained at the way the immigration officials “offloaded their children as if they are terrorists or criminals who did some anti-national crimes.”

“So many people are suffering as their children and other family members are stuck in India. We took the risk of flying him on a tourist visa from Dubai as I can’t sponsor a residence visa due to his age and Sharjah is not issuing any visit visa for family members yet,” said Dr Mubarack.

“It was an extremely painful situation,” he said about his son getting offloaded as his wife was preparing special food for the family’s reunion.

“The officials should have shown some humanity. My son was carrying bags full of his books. I can’t understand why officers behaved like this and offloaded him like a terrorist. We could have accepted the situation if they were not allowed to check-in. This is too much. They are not criminals to prevent them from flying.”

Abdul Jabbar said his son Basil had done his COVID-19 test and was all set to leave for Dubai to pick up his wife from Dubai International Airport when she informed the family in Abu Dhabi’s Western Region that she got offloaded.

“We were all mentally depressed. There was nothing to be worried about after the immigration clearance. If they had given this information to the airline before issuing the boarding pass, we wouldn’t have felt this bad. We followed all the protocols to bring her back. But Indian officials have offloaded them as if they were wanted terrorists.”

Basil, a mechanical engineer, said his wife had stayed with him only for a few months after their wedding and had gone back to Kerala for writing an exam. “She couldn’t come back and neither could I fly down to join her due to the COVID-19 travel restrictions. There are so many families like us suffering now. Indian authorities should stop treating expats like this and allow them to return to their families when the host country doesn’t have an issue to welcome them,” he said.

Embassy recommends travel permission to visit visa holders
When contacted, Indian Ambassador to the UAE, Pavan Kapoor told Gulf News that he was sad to hear about the incident.

Expressing his inability to help the aggrieved passengers, the envoy said: “I have recommended to the government of India that they should consider allowing Indians with visit visas to also be allowed to travel to Dubai. I am hoping that they will consider it positively soon, but till then there is nothing we can do to help.”

In a tweet posted on Wednesday afternoon, he added: “Since the UAE has recently started issuing new visas, we have recommended to authorities in India to consider allowing Indians with valid visas to travel to the UAE. We are hopeful for an early decision.”

Afi Ahmed, owner of Smart Travel that helped issue the tourist visa for the offloaded passengers, said he has also written to the Indian Ambassador requesting for help to allow parents and families to be reunited with the stranded members of the families, particularly students.

“We have more than 250 applications from parents who want to bring their children on tourist visas. Since they are unable to fly them in, some parents are opting for the long and risky route of flying their children first to the UK or the US and using their visas from those countries to get permission to arrive in Dubai on tourist visas. It is risky at this time of the pandemic.”

He urged the Indian authorities to introduce a system to allow passengers on visit or tourist visas to fly to the UAE to be reunited with their families here. “We can provide the documents to prove that the passengers are coming to the UAE to be with their families and not for tourism, leisure or job search. The government should consider the request from at least such passengers and help the worried families to be reunited.”
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