Bangladeshis Stranded in India: 8 special flights to bring them home
The US-Bangla Airlines will operate eight special flights on Chennai-Dhaka and Kolkata-Dhaka routes from April 20 to bring back over 1,000 stranded Bangladeshis who went there for treatment.
Six of the flights will be operated from Chennai from April 20 to April 25 while two from Kolkata will be operated on April 21 and April 23, Kamrul Islam, general manager (public relations) of the airline, told The Daily Star.
He said they decided to operate the flights after the two governments had recently come to an understanding on this score.
Flights on Chennai-Dhaka route are scheduled to take off at 12:15pm (Bangladesh local time) every day from April 20 to April 25 and will land at Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport (HSIA) at 3:15pm.
Flights on Kolkata-Dhaka route are scheduled to depart at 11:30am (Bangladesh local time).
All flights will be operated with Boeing 737-800 aircraft with a seating capacity of 164 passengers.
India has been under lockdown since March 25 and extended it up to May 3.
In this situation, many stranded Bangladeshis heaved sighs of relief at this arrangement while many are concerned about how effective the initiative would be.
Excessive airfare, inadequate number of seats, transport to Chennai and Kolkata airport amid lockdown, institutional quarantine in Dhaka are some of the many issues that made them wary of the arrangement.
Md Rashed, a Bangladeshi now stranded in Vellore, said, "The usual one-way airfare from Chennai to Dhaka is not more than Tk 14,000. However, the fare of these special flights is more than Tk 31,000. So, for the three members of my family, it would cost almost Tk 100,000. It's nothing but a daylight robbery."
Many Bangladeshis there are suffering from an acute financial crisis as most of the banks and money exchange booths in India are closed due to the lockdown, making transactions from Bangladesh extremely difficult, if not impossible.
About the concerns related to fare, Kamrul of US Bangla Airlines says, "There is no scope of comparing usual airfare to the fare of these special flights. We shall fly empty aircraft to Chennai and Kolkata. Although the seating capacity of every aircraft is 164, we shall have to fly to Dhaka even if we get only 10 or 50 passengers. So, we had to consider these factors before determining the fare."
However, according to Bangladeshis stranded in Chennai and its nearby town Vellore, there are at least 1,000 of them and six flights would not be enough to take them all back to Bangladesh.
There are hundreds of Bangladeshis in Bangalore and Hyderabad, who are also willing to return to Dhaka via Chennai.
Mahtab Hossain, a Bangladeshi stranded in Chennai says, "The airline is giving priority to those who booked tickets earlier but had their flights cancelled due to the lockdown. Chances are little that we shall be able to get the tickets."
Even if they get tickets, they are not certain if they would be able to board the plane.
Due to strict lockdown, all inter-state and intra-state transports are banned in India whereas these passengers will have to travel to the airport on their arrangements.
"It's almost impossible to arrange transport to Chennai from Vellore, Bangalore or Hyderabad unless we get support from Bangladesh High Commission in India," said Kamal, another Bangladeshi stranded in Vellore.
Moreover, many Bangladeshis have been held hostage by the hotel and rest house owners as the latter are reluctant to clear them without full payment of rents.
Md Idris Hasan, a Bangladeshi stranded in Vellore, said, "Tamil Nadu government ordered the guest house and hotel owners to waive 100 percent of the rents from March 25 to March 31 and 50 percent from April 1 until the end of the lockdown. However, most of the owners are not abiding by this order.
"When we informed the local police station, they told us to talk to the high commission. If we cannot pay the rent, they will not allow us to leave the hotel and we shall not be able to take the flights."
According to a press release issued by Bangladesh High Commission in India on April 15, the high commission is working with the Indian government to solve the transport and house rent issues. The commission has asked all the Bangladeshis to wait and to be patient until further notice.
On April 3, the foreign ministry of Bangladesh issued a statement, saying that nearly 2,500 Bangladeshi citizens, including 1,000 students are currently stranded in India due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
The government is firmly committed to bringing them back quickly, who got stuck in India and other countries, once the situation becomes convenient, said the statement.
Bangladesh brings back 48 from Thailand
Meanwhile, Forty-eight stranded Bangladeshis who went to Thailand for taking treatment, returned to Dhaka yesterday afternoon from Bangkok.
Carrying the Bangladeshi citizens, a special flight of US-Bangla Airlines landed at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport at around 4:20pm, said Kamrul Islam.
Apart from them, the dead body of a Bangladeshi who died at a Bangkok hospital was also brought back in the same flight, Kamrul also said.
All the 48 Bangladeshi citizens were allowed to go to their homes on condition that they will stay in self-quarantine at their houses for 14 days as all of them submitted medical certificates that they were tested negative for Covid-19, said Md Jahirul, a doctor at the health desk of HSIA.