Aashiq had gone to Sharjah in January on a visit visa in search of a job. He hasn't been able to secure a job yet. The COVID-19 scenario has shattered his plans. He is now living with a friend and struggling for food.
Like scores of Keralites who want to return home from foreign countries, Afzal too is eager to come back. He had registered with the Indian Embassy right at the start of the Vande Bharat Mission. But his turn to fly back to the state hasnâ€™t come yet.
Though the expatriate mission has ferried thousands back to their homes, those who still await their turn find it hard to cope. Among them are those without jobs like Aashiq.
â€śI had been working in Saudi Arabia for three years and had returned during Nitaqat (the Saudi governmentâ€™s mission to employ more nationals in the private sector). I used to work at a tiles showroom back at home. I decided to try my luck once again in a Gulf country, expecting to get a job. But coronavirus cases began reporting here in mid-January. There ended the hope for getting a job,â€ť Aashiq tells TNM. He is a native of Vazhikkadavu in Malappuram district.
Some people have offered help to arrange flight tickets for him.
â€śWhat we need is to get into the list of expatriates. The struggle is for everything now: for food, for stay,â€ť he says.
Similar is the plight of Shihab, another native of Malappuram. Organisations like Dubai Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre, Adu Dhabi Sakhti and others have been arranging flight tickets for those who canâ€™t afford them.
Shihab used to work at a laundry unit in Saudi Arabia before moving to Dubai in March on a visit visa in search of a better job. He couldnâ€™t find one.
â€śI want to go back home at the earliest as I am left with nothing. I donâ€™t have the money to even buy food, but am surviving on what others give. I have registered both with the Kerala Muslim Cultural Centre (KMCC) and the embassy. I am living in the hope of being back home at the earliest,â€ť says a desperate Shihab.
According to reports, as of June 1, 160 people from Kerala have died due to the COVID-19 disease in the Gulf countries.
As on June 9, a total of 2,00,642 people returned to the state.
Of this, 51,135 returned to the state by flight, 1,621 returned via sea ports, 1,26,178 returned by road and 21,708 people returned via trains.
â€śWhile the Vande Bharat Mission's policy is to give priority to pregnant women, those who are without jobs, sick and students, many who donâ€™t come under any of these categories have managed to return. This is by using contacts in the Ministry, with politicians, etc. This has badly affected the chances of those who are at the receiving end,â€ť says Deepak, a native of Kollam who is also stuck abroad.
Names have changed on request