With repatriation flights successfully starting between UK and India, Indians stuck in the UK are breathing a sigh of relief. The High Commission of India is working round the clock to help them reach home. But people from Bengal are upset, as there is still no direct flight to Kolkata. Some have lost their jobs, eagerly waiting to get home while others have ailing parents, in their deathbed, counting hours.
Ramesh Das from Kolkata, was visiting their son with his wife. He arrived in the UK on 17 January and was meant to return on 26 April. “Both me and my wife are over 60. I have my health issues, that need regular attending and require medications, that I brought along with me when I came here. But the medicines were enough till the end of April, and they ran out. My son Joydeep had to finally find a GP who gave me a prescription for a month’s medicine, but what if he can’t return by the end of the month? This medicine will also run out,” he told the paper.
“We have a house in Kolkata where my wife and I stay. It is lying locked, with no one to clean, no one to even pay our electricity and other bills. I do not know what will happen to that.”
Visa for many people stranded here expired, and had to get an extension through the Home Office till 31 May.
Dr Arpita Ray’s father came for a few months to spend time with his daughter’s family here. He has a visa till 30 June. Speaking to Asian Voice, Arpita said, “I am not in a rush to send back my father. He was supposed to go back on 6 May, but the flights are grounded. I am hoping they will start in June. I am really surprised there are no Kolkata flights yet, but I am hoping they will be announced in the future.”
Indian students with OCI card face hardships
The Indian students living abroad who are Overseas Citizens of India (OCI) card holders are facing tremendous hardship. They are currently stranded, largely in the UK, where their universities and dormitories have closed for the remainder of the academic year in light of the current pandemic. Some have even announced that classes and assignments for the remainder of the calendar year will be conducted online. This has made things very difficult for these OCI students, particularly those with no relatives or close family friends abroad and those who rely on incomes from jobs they can no longer report for. They are primarily residents of India, many whose families are still India, and although they may have been born abroad, India is the only home they have ever known. It is the first time away from home for many of them, some as young as 18, and their families are understandably very worried and anxious.
A third-year undergraduate student at Bangor University, Wales, UK (20 years old) told Asian Voice, "My classes have been suspended for almost two months now. I was born and brought up in India. I have no family in UK, I’m completely alone here without any support. I must return home at the soonest as my father is alone in India. My mother passed away two years ago due to cancer and since then it has been just me and my dad. I am his only child and I miss him very much, along with the rest of family. Bangalore is the only home I have ever known and I cannot describe the mental anguish that I have been in since March, when OCI holders were first banned.
“Now they are saying OCIs will have to wait for commercial flights. It has already been 2 months since I’ve been trying to get home. I watched all of my university friends leave to go home to their families, now all the Indians waiting for evacuation flights are getting to go home, and once again I have been left behind.
“Along with all of the mental stress, financially the UK is too expensive. In the coming weeks my rental agreement will expire, after which I will have no where to go. I cannot continue funding myself here in the UK as I only planned to be here till May marking the end of my course. Please help us get home. The colour of my passport does not define where my home is."
Foundation diploma student at University of the Arts London, UK (18 years old) told the newsweekly “I am a student from India and am stranded in London because I have an OCI card. When travel restrictions were announced, I did not even get a chance to pack my bags and go back to Bangalore, the city I grew up in since the age of 1, and where I live with my family. I don't have any other home to go to. All my life, I was told that I am just like any other Indian, but now, I feel abandoned. I am not allowed to go home and be with my family.”
First-year undergraduate at SOAS, University of London currently stranded in California, USA (18 years old) added, "I was born in the US but have lived in India since I was a young child. I took the opportunity to pursue my undergraduate studies abroad as I had been awarded a scholarship by my university, I would otherwise be studying in India like many of my friends are. My course started in September 2019, and I had been abroad for less than 6 months when news of the novel coronavirus first broke.
“By the time it became clear how serious the situation was and my university closed in March, OCI holders had already been suspended from entering India - with a mere 24 hours notice.
“I am currently staying with an old acquaintance of my parents in US, who was kind enough to welcome me; I am fortunate enough to have a secure place to stay which some of us do not have.”