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"We no longer have a job, no more money and no more options" - India has started the largest repatriation of the corona crisis

India wants to bring home hundreds of thousands of citizens who have been abroad for weeks. Two stranded people tell.

Every morning, Muhammad checks Facebook and his emails to see whether he has received any new messages from the embassy or from all the politicians he has written to. The others in his room do the same. "But there is no news," says Muhammed, 24, from the Indian state of Kerala. He and his nine roommates want to go home. But they are stuck in Dubai.

India has started the world's largest repatriation campaign in the corona crisis. 13 million Indians live abroad, according to the Indian media 200,000 of them are to be brought back. Many have been holding out since mid-March, when India imposed a ban on international flights and shortly thereafter a national curfew. The curfew was eased earlier this week. And on Thursday the first planes took off: to Saudi Arabia, to the USA, to London, to the United Arab Emirates. Other stranded people are to be fetched by ship, at least four ships of the Navy are on their way to the Maldives and the Gulf region.

For the time being, Muhammad will not sit in any of the planes. Two years ago he found a job as a typist in Dubai, typing documents until his employer fired him because of the Corona crisis. Muhammad doesn't want his full name in the newspaper. If he turns the cell phone camera a little, you can see the room behind him: two rows of bunk beds, ten of them divide the room. “We haven't received any wages since March. We no longer have a job, no more money and no more options, ”says Muhammed. They received food from an aid organization. Muhammad and his roommates have registered with the embassy for a flight home. But they are still waiting for an answer.

Rent is due

There is room for 200 to 250 returnees on an airplane. According to the Indian embassy in Dubai, 200,000 Indians want to go home from there alone. Around a quarter of the population of the Emirates are Indian guest workers, and around three million of them are believed to live in the Emirates. You need patience, the repatriation will take, writes the Indian embassy in a message.

"If we can't leave soon, it will be difficult," says Muhammed, the rent for next month is due. And even if you managed to get a seat on the plane: you would have to pay for the tickets yourself, they cost around 170 francs. The rent in the room with the bunk beds is around 100 francs, says Muhammed, “one way or another: we have a problem”. He hopes he can take out a loan from relatives in India to either pay for the rent or the ticket to go home.

At the beginning of the week, India reported a record number of new infections, almost 4,000 in one day. And the numbers could keep increasing. With the curfew eased, people streamed out of their homes at the beginning of the week. Anyone who wants to return to India by plane or ship must be tested before the trip and then be quarantined for two weeks.

Vasanth Karunanithi doesn't want to go back. Karunanithi, 23, is a medical student in Moldova. "Around 600 Indians study here," he says on the phone. They were attracted by low tuition fees, Karunanithi says it is cheaper to study medicine in Moldova than in his homeland, the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. At the moment the students are sitting in their rooms on the campus of the state university in Chisinau. They are not allowed to go out, the university staff get food and toiletries.

Karunanithi is afraid of being infected in India, so he wants to stay. “But most of the students want to go home. They were relieved when they heard that the government wanted to bring us back, ”he says. The medical students also had to register with the embassy, ​​they too are waiting for a decision.

No flights to Eastern Europe

In the first phase of repatriation, India wants to bring 14,800 citizens home by plane, within a week. Then new destinations will be flown to, maybe the Vltava.

At the moment there are no flights to Eastern Europe planned. But Karunanithi says the embassy assured them there will be some soon. Indian students are also stuck in Ukraine and Belarus, they too were attracted by the low tuition fees and would like to go home. They have been sending increasingly desperate video messages in the past few days and have appeared on Indian news programs. Parents tried to get their children back from the highest court during the lockdown - but in vain.

Karunanithi wants to stay, but his roommate will leave at the first opportunity. "Then I'll be here alone," he says. But at least it's pretty safe in Chisinau.