Muscat: Indian expats who have returned to Oman on repatriation flights during the COVID-19 pandemic have shared their experiences of what it was like to be reunited with their families, and have thanked the authorities for helping them return to the Sultanate.
Some of the repatriation and chartered planes that flew expats home from Oman are being used to bring back foreign nationals who have valid residence visas and wish to come back to the country.
Moyeed Ruhan, a native of Hyderabad in India, was over the moon when reunited with his wife, his daughters Emaan and Shireen, and his son Irfan. All three of his children study in India, and had planned to fly to Oman on holiday in the middle of March, but were unable to do so, because of travel restrictions put in place because of the pandemic.
“My son studies engineering in Hyderabad, and my two daughters are in school,” said Moyeed. “They had intended to finish their exams by March 18 and come back here on the March 20, but then because of the pandemic, all the flights were cancelled.”
“Honestly, these past few months were a nightmare for me and my family,” he admitted. “We did not know how long these restrictions would last. The Indian Social Club and the Embassy of India approached the authorities to bring Indian residents here. It was a group booking that brought many families back to Oman."
“To see my family at the airport made me the happiest person in the world,” he said. “My children have been born and brought up here, and the authorities saw that they used to come here for holiday every now and then, so they were kind enough to allow my entire family to come back to Oman.”
As part of the repatriation measures, residents who arrive in Oman from overseas have to undergo two weeks of mandatory quarantine. Although he won’t be able to go outside for the next fortnight or so, Moyeed’s son Irfan is happy to be back home.
“Honestly, this is a relief,” he admitted. “I am happy to be back in Oman, and that my family were able to come with me makes me even happier. For now, my college has started online classes, and we will have practical lessons when they are allowed to reopen for students, but there has been no sign of when that will happen.”
While Moyeed’s family came from Hyderabad to Muscat, Roshni Kumar was reunited with her parents when she landed from Chennai. A final-year medical student, Roshni and her fellow students were asked to leave their hostels by early April, as their institution, like so many others, would close because of the COVID pandemic.
Roshni initially stayed with a friend in the town of Karnal for three months while her family tried to make arrangements to bring her to Oman.
“I had to take a car from Karnal to Hyderabad, where I took a domestic flight to Chennai, and from there, I took an international flight to Muscat,” she recalled. “There were only about 11 of us on board the plane, so it was very easy for us to practice social distancing. There was no food served on board, but we were given a pre-packed box with sandwiches, cake and water before we got on the plane."
“My mother is most happy to see me, and I too am very relieved to be with my family,” said Roshni. “The last three months have not been easy for any of us, but I am glad that at least I get to be with them now. I would ask all those who are in a similar situation to keep hope and be brave, because the challenges they are facing right now will be over soon.”
Her father, Anil Kumar, who is the convener of the Telugu Wing of the Indian Social Club, said they had been trying to bring her home for the last 90 days, but the opportunity for Roshni to come home only materialised now. Even then, it was not without its own challenges.
He recalled: “We tried to book her a flight from Hyderabad, but it was not possible, so the best option for us was in Chennai. Even then, we had concerns over how she would be able to get there. Her connecting flight from Hyderabad to Chennai was at 11pm, and her plane to Muscat was at 10 o’clock the next morning. We got in touch with the hotels there to see if they could accommodate her for that time, but there was nothing that could be done."
“Exiting the airport would not be possible without a pass, and if she was found without one, then she would be quarantined for another 14 days,” said Anil. “But then I got in touch with the DG of Customs in Chennai and he assured me he would take good care of our daughter. There was someone to escort her to the international airport, where she had to spend some time in the waiting area, and then she was escorted once again to the baggage area, so we are very thankful for the efforts that have been made for our daughter."
“To be honest, the last 90 days have been quite excruciating for all of us,” he admitted. “Because we are part of the social club, we provide food and help to many people here who need it, but I was unable, at the same time, to provide help for my daughter. We used to hear stories of other expats in Muscat being reunited with their family members, and every time we heard of these, the emotions my wife and I experienced of missing our daughter only became stronger.”
“I am most appreciative to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for bringing her home,” added Anil. “My daughter has a multiple-entry visa, and so she was allowed in at immigration, and I would request that all the other people who are waiting to be joined with their families here are soon given clearance to do so.”
Abdul Samad and his family travelled with him to India in December. While he came back to Oman, they stayed there to handle a few things that needed to be organised. He had booked his tickets to bring them back to the Sultanate, but the pandemic stopped his travel plans from going through.
“It’s been a long process to get them back,” said Abdul Samad, after reuniting with his wife and three daughters. “The Indian embassy supported us in these matters, as did the Deccani Wing of the Indian Social Club. They contacted the authorities with a list of expatriates. We had to approach different authorities and give them all the names and details of the passengers. A couple of attempts to organise this had to be made as it wasn’t happening the first time.”
“Of course, the feeling of staying away from your family at a time like this is indescribable,” he admitted. “But this situation is happening to all of us, not just me. It is a difficult feeling: staying alone, and being unable to manage things, but seeing them once again made me the happiest person alive. Hopefully, other families will be reunited as well. Different actions, different authorities, took almost a month."
“I want to thank all the people who worked to make this possible and got the approvals done: the airlines, the authorities, and the ambassador had a big role to play,” said Abdul. “The process at the airport was quite smooth, the flight authorities were present and they gave everyone boarding passes. All of the passengers had to give an assurance of quarantine before boarding the plane, for the safety of themselves and others.”