Alamgir Hossain, who worked as an assistant to an electrician at a hotel in Bahrain, came home in the first week of March this year on a three-month leave.
The man from Feni could not take a return flight when his holiday period ended owing to suspension of all flights to and from Bangladesh amid the global Covid-19 outbreak.
Now, flight operations to Bahrain and different other countries have resumed on a limited scale, but he still cannot fly to his destination because of ticket prices being very high.
Over five months have elapsed since he came home, and his visa has only two months left to expire.
It is not just Alamgir. More than one lakh Bangladeshi expatriates, who came home to enjoy holidays, now remain stranded and are facing uncertainty over their return to their respective destinations due to exorbitant prices of air tickets and a shortage of flights and scheduled flights still remaining suspended in a few countries.
Moreover, nearly 1 lakh aspiring migrants, who had visas at different stages, could not take flights to their destinations owing to flight suspensions, triggered by the pandemic. They are also waiting to catch flights.
And 80 percent of them are expected to get jobs in Saudi Arabia, according to the Bangladesh International Recruiting Agencies (Baira).
Shamim Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, secretary-general of Baira, said, "The coronavirus situation in Bangladesh might discourage foreign employers from hiring workers from Bangladesh even if the situation in the destination countries becomes normal anytime soon."
Saudi Arabia, the largest overseas labour market for Bangladesh, and Kuwait still do not permit flights from Bangladesh. Currently, scheduled flights are being operated to only 11 destinations, including Malaysia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, the United Kingdom, China, Sri Lanka, Maldives and Turkey on a limited scale, according to the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh.
That is why the number of available tickets is not enough as per the demand of migrant workers and ticket prices are also very high, said travel agency owners.
"I came home with a return ticket of Gulf Air, but failed to fly out in the scheduled time owing to flight suspensions. I am not sure whether I will get a refund for the ticket," said Alamgir.
"Emirates Airlines now charges Tk1.2 lakh for a Bahrain-bound flight ticket whereas it cost only Tk25,000 in pre-pandemic times. I cannot afford this big amount of money to buy an air ticket," he added.
He contacted several travel agencies for a ticket at a lower price but could not manage one, he said.
Airfares for flights to the UAE, Bahrain and Oman now have risen to Tk80,000-140,000 from Tk20,000-25,000 during the pre-pandemic period, said Mahmodul Hoque Pearu, owner of Hoque International Tours and Travels.
Kazi Wahidul Alam, editor of The Bangladesh Monitor, a travel magazine, said, "A minimal number of flights are now being operated to Middle Eastern countries against the demand. Besides, the Civil Aviation Authority's instructions on keeping 30 percent of seats empty per flight have played a part in the steep hike in ticket prices."
Although flights are being operated from Bangladesh to the UAE, Bangladeshis carrying employment visas were denied entry to Abu Dhabi last week.
Some 68 Bangladeshis, flying Biman Bangladesh Airlines, were not allowed to enter the country on August 15 and returned home.
Biman, on its website, said the Abu Dhabi authorities are not accepting Bangladeshi passengers with employment visas at present and so Biman cannot carry Bangladeshi passengers with employment visas to Abu Dhabi.
The notice said for the same reason, the flag carrier will operate two flights instead of six a week until August 31 for passengers wishing to return to Bangladesh from Abu Dhabi.
UAE-going expatriates currently in Bangladesh are now worried about their return to the country.
Besides, many travel agency owners are not selling tickets to avoid hassles and fines following this decision.
"Around 25,000-30,000 UAE-going workers now remain stranded in the country. If a passenger returns from the immigration of a destination country, the travel agency will be fined. That is why we are now not selling tickets," said Mahmodul Hoque Pearu.
Mokabbir Hossain, managing director and chief executive officer at Biman Bangladesh Airlines, told The Business Standard, "Bangladeshi passengers are not getting clearance to enter Abu Dhabi when we issue boarding passes to them. In recent days at Dhaka airport, it has happened several times that passengers raised a hue and cry after they failed to fly to Abu Dhabi despite having visas and other documents."
"Considering this, we have decided to cancel flights from Dhaka to Abu Dhabi till August 31. It is not the responsibility of Biman to allow a passenger in the immigration of a country."
Shamim Ahmed Chowdhury Noman of Baira, said, "Earlier, a worker needed an entry permit issued by the Federal Authority for Identity and Citizenship (ICA) of the UAE. But it was relaxed on August 12. That is why many workers did not carry the ICA permits."
"But the Abu Dhabi immigration demanded the ICA permit and denied entry to our workers. So, it is their responsibility, not that of our airlines or government," he added.
He suggests that workers go with ICA permits the next time to avoid problems on landing.
For its part, the Civil Aviation Authority will send a report to the Ministry of Civil Aviation and Tourism within the next five working days on the issue of Bangladeshis being denied entry into Abu Dhabi, according to a decision reached at an inter-ministerial meeting on August 17.
"In the report, the CAA will explain the actual reasons behind the return of expatriate workers from Abu Dhabi," said Md Jahangir Alam, joint secretary at the expatriates' welfare and overseas employment ministry.
While commenting on stranded and aspiring migrants, he said, "If the destination countries do not allow flights from Bangladesh, we have to wait to go there. But no country has announced that it will not permit entry to our workers whose visas have expired. Our foreign missions are concerned about the issue."