Uncertainty grips stranded Saudi returnees over flight shortage
As Saudi Arabia has announced a partial lifting of suspension of international flights from September 15, Saudi Arabian Airlines is scheduled to resume flights from Dhaka from September 23
- Stranded migrants protest over failure to get return tickets
- Tension rises over flight cancellations between two countries
- 80% of one lakh stranded migrants work in Saudi Arabia
- Visas of many to expire this month
Shafiq Ullah of Lakshmipur works at a furniture shop in Tabuk of Saudi Arabia.
The 46-year-old came home on February 6 this year to spend around 2-month vacation. He came with a return ticket of Saudi Arabian Airlines but could not go back as flights were suspended to prevent the Covid-19 spread.
As Saudi Arabia has announced a partial lifting of suspension of international flights from September 15, Saudi Arabian Airlines is scheduled to resume flights from Dhaka from September 23.
On Monday night, Biman Bangladesh Airlines Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Md Mokabbir Hossain told The Business Standard that Biman had been permitted to run eight commercial flights to three Saudi Arabian cities from October 1.
Shafiq on Monday went to Saudi airline's office at Pan Pacific Sonargaon Dhaka to get a new ticket but could not manage one for the shortage of flights. Hundreds of Saudi Arabia-bound Bangladeshis like him also gathered there.
They protested by blocking the Karwan Bazar-Bangla Motors road for around half an hour starting from 3:30pm.
"The airline authorities gave me a token and asked me to meet them on October 21. They will confirm my ticket on that day," Shafiq told The Business Standard.
"But my visa will expire on September 23. I will not be able to return then. Now, my fate is totally uncertain," he added.
Meanwhile, in front of the National Press Club on Monday, a group of Saudi Arabia-bound Bangladeshis protested the rise of an uncertainty over their timely return to the Middle East country. They organised a human chain and demanded that they be allowed to return before their visas expire.
They urged the expatriates' welfare ministry to look into the matter.
Tension mounts over flight cancellations
Initially, the Saudi Arabian Airlines received permission from the Civil Aviation Authority of Bangladesh (CAAB) to operate two weekly flights from Dhaka.
Besides, Saudi Arabia denied Biman Bangladesh Airlines a permission to operate flights from Dhaka.
A rumour spread on Monday that Bangladesh had decided to cancel all commercial flights of Saudi Arabian Airlines as the Middle East country had denied Biman to operate flights.
But CAAB Chairman Air Vice Marshal M Mafidur Rahman told The Business Standard they did not make any such decision yet.
He said Biman sought permission from the Saudi Arabian authorities to operate scheduled flights from Dhaka, but the latter said only cargo flights would be allowed.
"We have sought written documents from Biman on the denial by the Saudi Arabian authorities. After getting that, we will decide on cancellation of flights by Saudi Arabian Airlines," Mafidur added.
In a press release issued on Thursday, Biman said the Saudi Arabian authorities had decided to resume flights but had not yet allowed Biman flights.
Saudi Arabian Airlines officials denied to comment on the matter. Tariki Alowaidi, country manager of the airline in Bangladesh, did not reply to an email sent on Monday.
More than one lakh Bangladeshi migrants are stranded at home due to the pandemic, according to the Bangladesh Association of International Recruiting Agencies (Baira).
"Around 80% of the stranded migrants work in Saudi Arabia. With the resumption of flights, they are now hopeful about their return. But the situation now is like they will be in danger due to the tension that exists between the authorities of the two countries," said Shameem Ahmed Chowdhury Noman, secretary general of Baria.
"If the visa of a worker expires, he has to get permission from the employer and then initiate visa processing again. But it is a long process that is totally uncertain," he added.
Protest before Biman office
Stranded migrants protested in front of the Biman Bangladesh Airlines ticket sales centre in Motijheel on Monday.
Around midday, protesters entered the Biman office and behaved angrily with officials of the national flag carrier, reports Bangla Tribune.
Hafizur Rahman, a protester, said the authorities should arrange stranded migrants' return to Saudi Arabia as early as possible.
"Also, Biman should return the money it took by selling tickets earlier," he added.