The association has also been providing food kits and other necessities to those worst-hit by the lockdown.

ORMA flight passengers wearing PPE kits
Coronavirus Human Interest Tuesday, June 23, 2020 - 17:32

For over three months, Baburaj spent his time in a labour camp in Dubai. It was on March 5 that the school he worked for had closed down. Baburaj had been working as a bus driver at the school. Schools in Dubai were among the first to close when the city went into lockdown to prevent the spread of the COVID-19.

Baburaj had registered with the Indian Embassy and the Kerala government’s Department of Non-Resident Keralites Affairs (NORKA), hoping to fly back home. Things hadn’t worked out as planned until the Overseas Malayali Association (ORMA), which had been providing food kits and other necessities to helpless people like Baburaj, decided to charter a flight to Kannur. For no cost at all, they brought home 183 Malayalis who were among the most-affected by the lockdown in Dubai on June 21.

“It was a huge help. I was really panicky, staying in that labour camp with several others, coming from different parts of the world. If one of us got infected, it would have spread to the others very soon. I already had a disc problem having had a surgery 10 years ago,” says Baburaj, who is now in quarantine in a facility arranged by the Chelembra panchayat in Malappuram, near his home.

Baburaj and several others like him, who were hoping to return to Kerala had tried their luck with several associations, but most of them charged more than 1,300 dirhams (over Rs 26,000). 


Subeesh, one of the passengers

“No one had even called to check. I had applied everywhere, the Embassy and other Indian associations,” says Ragesh from Taliparamba in Kannur. He is now in quarantine in a house away from his family and elderly relatives.

Ragesh had gone to Dubai in the middle of February in search of a job. But the pandemic broke out soon after that. “I had to stay locked in a room that I got with the help of an uncle’s friend. He took care of my needs, but I felt bad depending on him for so long and somehow wanted to go back to Kerala. I had applied online with the Embassy and also went there in person, but they never called me back. It was such a huge relief when ORMA called back,” Ragesh says.

The flight was scheduled for 5.30 pm and passengers were asked to report by 12.30. “We were given rapid tests for COVID-19 and it was ensured that we tested negative before further proceedings. We were then issued tickets, given food and provided with Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) complete with face shields and gloves. Even after reaching Kerala, they had been following up to check if everything is alright,” Ragesh says.

Also on that flight was Sanil from Chalakudy, who was given a job offer in Sharjah and had reached the Gulf city on March 1. Unfortunately, the coronavirus outbreak which followed cost him his job. He was stuck in a strange city without a job or income. “I was sharing a room with a friend and the plan was to give half the rent when I got paid. But I lost the job, and the owner wanted us to vacate the room by June 15. ORMA people helped in accommodating me in one of the members’ personal capacity and also gave a free ticket home,” Sanil says.

Earlier, when people stuck in Dubai without job or income needed food, ORMA supplied around 3,000 kits. “We are still doing that. We also provided medicine, arranging it from India with the help of NORKA. But there were many people, who were unable to afford a ticket back home — job seekers on visit visas, families who had come for short visits, aged people, etc. We decided to give 100 free air tickets to the most deserving of them,” says Pradeep, executive committee member, ORMA.

But they received more than 1,000 applications through their Google Forms. 

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had also announced that ORMA would give 100 free tickets to the most deserving. “That's when social activist Murali asked us, ‘If you can give 100 tickets, why can't you charter a flight?’ So our patron NK Kunjahammad took this to the ORMA Executive and Advisory Board. Deira Travels General Manager Sudhish also joined hands. Finally, we got the approval to charter a flight and we are proud to say that 183 people reached Kerala free of cost,” Pradeep adds.


A few of the ORMA members

ORMA had published, in major newspapers and on social media, a WhatsApp number and an email for people to apply and received many messages (these contacts are now frozen till they plan another flight). They also shared a Google Form to people who contacted them. ORMA members categorised all the applications into high, medium and low priority. They shortlisted 430 people, contacted 250 of the high priority ones, and the final shortlist had 190 people. Seven of these people were on the waiting list, in case one of the 183 others tests positive for COVID-19 at the airport. The rapid tests were conducted by the Dubai Health Authority (DHA).

“We are very proud to say it is the first flight to Kerala with people from the general public. Most of the passengers in this flight had not even heard about ORMA before. Many organisations have been arranging flights with a per ticket cost of AED 1,330 (Rs 27,265 approximately). Vande Bharat flight costs AED 750 (as charged by the carriers),” Pradeep says.

Also read: 299 NRI Keralites succumbed to COVID-19 abroad

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