- Around 21,000 Bangladeshi migrants facing uncertainty
- Many are trying to get tickets for the 4th consecutive day
- Number of flights too low to accommodate migrants
- Biman operates first special flight to Singapore on Tuesday
- Govt allows Bangladesh-China flights under special consideration
The suffering of migrant workers – especially those bound for Saudi Arabia – continues amid the lockdown as they gather before the Saudi Airlines office at Pan Pacific Sonargaon Hotel on Tuesday in a mad rush for tickets.
For the fourth consecutive day, many are desperately trying to get their tickets reissued for flights that got cancelled amid the stricter lockdown, while disregarding social distancing measures introduced to curb Covid-19 infections.
A number of expatriates complained about the uncertainty surrounding availability of tickets and the slow service of airlines.
Ferdous Hossain, a migrant who came to Dhaka from Gafargaon area of Mymensingh for tickets, told The Business Standard, "I was supposed to go to Saudi Arabia on the 19 April, but I do not know what to do now as the Saudi Airlines flight was cancelled."
"I paid Tk5,000 in expenses in just two days," Ferdous said while narrating the hardships he faced while travelling amid the lockdown restrictions.
Another expatriate named Shahanur Rahman from Gaibandha paid Tk7,000 to reach Dhaka on a truck carrying vegetables. But Shahanur's flight on Monday night got cancelled, and his visa will expire within six days. Saudia Airlines is yet to reissue his ticket.
Meanwhile, expatriate Miraz Hasan from Noakhali rented a private car for Tk7,000 to reach Dhaka.
"Saudi Airlines said it will offer tickets for the new flight, but not sure when. Under the circumstances, I am thinking about where to stay in Dhaka. I have spent Tk13,000 as additional expenses so far," he said.
Mohammad Ronny from Cumilla has been trying to get a ticket for the last two days.
"I have a Saudi Airlines flight scheduled for 22 April. I have shown the online copy of my ticket at the airlines office, but they are now asking for the main copy or print copy. How will I manage this amid lockdown restrictions?
"I have visited the airlines office five times for a solution, but to no avail."
The suspension of international flights to and from Bangladesh has been extended for another week from 21 to 28 April, following the government's decision to expand the stricter lockdown amid a spike in Covid-19 infections.
However, special flights to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, UAE, and Singapore will continue so that several thousand expatriate workers who became stuck in the country since 14 April can return to their workplaces in those countries.
Singapore is in the list, but migrants bound for the country are currently in a serious predicament amid the lockdown, as Singapore Airlines has not operated even one flight so far despite having the government's permission.
Meanwhile, Biman Bangladesh Airlines operated only one flight to Singapore from 17 to 20 April. Singapore-bound migrants have been helplessly visiting airline offices and travel agencies throughout Dhaka in search of tickets. They also held a human chain over the issue on Sunday.
A flight of Biman Bangladesh Airlines left Dhaka's Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport towards Singapore with 106 passengers on Tuesday at 08.13am. Besides, Biman operated two other flights on Dhaka-Dammam and Dhaka-Jeddah routes the same day.
Insiders told the Business Standard that the number of flights is too low compared to the number of foreign-bound migrants. Besides, the government had permitted 12 airlines to operate flights to selected countries, but they did not launch those flights in time.
For example, Air Arabia is on the list of airlines permitted to operate flights amid the stricter lockdown,but it did not operate any flights from 17 to 18 April.
Commenting on the matter, Saudia Airlines Dhaka office's Manager (sales) Omar Khayyam said, "Any airlines will think about commercial viability before operating a flight. Although there are available passengers from Dhaka, there is a shortage of passengers during the return flights."
Due to a shortage of passengers, Biman had cancelled a few of its flights last Saturday, when the special flights started to operate, sources said.
On the matter, Chief of Brac Migration Programme Shariful Islam Hasan said, "Firstly, the decision to suspend all international flights was not right move. No country has imposed restrictions on Bangladesh as yet, but we stopped the flights.
"Special flights were later introduced in a bid to solve the problem, but this initiative lacks coordination."
Around 21,000 Bangladeshi migrants are facing uncertainty after the government cancelled all international flights since 14 April amid the stricter Covid-19 lockdown. Later, the authorities decided to operate special flights for migrants bound for five specific countries.
Govt allows Bangladesh-China flights
The government has decided to operate flights between Bangladesh and China under special consideration after reviewing the urgency of passengers. The Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) made the decision on Tuesday.
The CAAB decided to allow flights of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, US Bangla Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, and China Southern Airlines to operate passenger flights between the two countries, a press release said.
The decision will come into effect immediately and will remain effective until 28 April.
Following the CAAB move, US-Bangla Airlines on Tuesday announced that it will operate a special flight on Dhaka- Guangzhou route from 24 April.
The flight will leave Dhaka's Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport every Saturday at 10:10pm, and reach Guangzhou at 3:50pm local time. The flight will then leave Guangzhou at 5am local time on Sunday for Dhaka.
The CAAB on Tuesday also decided that all domestic flights excluding Cox's Bazar will resume in the country from Wednesday.