Bahrain expatriate Delwar Hossain came home on a leave and got stranded due to the coronavirus pandemic as international flights from Bangladesh were grounded for months.
When the planes took to the skies again in June, the Chattogram dweller rushed to many travel agents for a Chattogram-Bahrain ticket.
"Most of the travel agencies did not have any Bahrain ticket. One agency that had the ticket demanded Tk3 lakh for a ticket, which used to cost a maximum of Tk30,000 in regular times," Delwar said.
As he could not manage the hiked airfare, he failed to return to his workplace though his employer has repeatedly been asking him to rejoin and his visa is almost expired.
Now the expat to the Persian Gulf country is in doubt whether he would be able to go back there ever again.
The government resumed international flight operations from late June after over two months of suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic forced countries across the world to cut off international air connectivity and Bangladesh followed suit.
Reopening of flights in June prompted the ticket crisis with the airfare skyrocketing. A ticket for the United Arab Emirates jumped to Tk70,000 which previously was at Tk22,000.
Like Delwar, a good number of expatriate workers from who returned home before the pandemic could not go back to their working countries while many are struggling with the unusual hike in airfare and ticket scarcity.
According to Chattogram-based non-governmental organisation Young Power in Social Action (YPSA), nearly 50,000 expatriates got stranded in the port city during the pandemic-led movement restrictions.
Travel agents said airfare for Bahrain has increased the most as the Emirates airline is the sole operator of flights on the route.
Airfare to Abu Dhabi has climbed to Tk60,000-65,000 from Tk20,000-25,000, Sharjah to Tk70,000 from Tk25,000 and London to Tk1-1.10 lakh from Tk50,000 previously.
Hailing from Chattogram, Arab Emirate expatriate Maksudul Alam said, "We are in financial crunch as we have been staying home for long. My visa will end on August 15 and it will expire if I do not go back meantime."
According to the district manpower and employment office, nearly 15 lakh people of the port city work at different countries.
At least 10 lakh of them are working in Middle Eastern countries including Oman, Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Bahrain.
Mohammad Jahirul Alam Majumder, deputy-director of the manpower office, said many expatriates, who got stranded during the pandemic-led shutdown, told them that they were facing trouble in returning to their workplaces due to the unusual hike in airfare.
Chattogram-based Mahim Oversees staff Monjurul Alam said they are receiving at least 20 expatriates daily after the resumption of international flights. "Of them, we can manage to provide one or two with tickets," he added.
MH Travel Agency owner Mainul Haque said many expatriates are desperate to return as their visas will expire soon.
Mohammad Abul Kashem, president of the Chattogram unit of the Association of Travel Agents of Bangladesh (ATAB), said the airliners have hiked the airfare cashing in on the virus-led crisis. Even the state-owned Bangladesh Biman has hiked their ticket prices manifold.
He said the crisis will not be resolved until the air travel returns to normal.
In the meantime, employing countries have made coronavirus negative certificate mandatory for workers who want to return to their workplaces, intensifying the suffering of returning expats.
As the returning expatriates need the testing report just three days before their departure, they have to go through an exhausting process – online registration, giving samples and collecting the result – before the long journeys.
Chattogram's Raozan dweller Faruk Hosen said he had to undergo the immense suffering amid the tight schedule just before his departure.
"The three-day-long process was terrible, especially the harassment at the civil surgeon office gave me a really tough time," said Faruk.
Contacted, Chattogram Civil Surgeon Dr Sheikh Fazle Rabbi said 150-200 expatriates are applying online for Covid-19 test every day.
"We are trying to overcome the minor issues the expatriates had to face at the beginning. There was a single booth for them previously while we have set up another recently. The testing capacity will increase gradually," he added.