Srinagar: A senior Kashmir journalist stuck in UAE with his family has been kept out of the list of stranded Indians to be evacuated from the country.
Bashir Ahmad Soffi, Special Correspondent and Bureau Chief of news agency UNI in Srinagar, put out an SOS in his letter mailed to The Kashmir Monitor on Wednesday.
In it, Soffi said he, his wife, daughter and 7-month old granddaughter were stuck in the country since early March.
Interestingly, as he tried to contact the Indian Embassy in UAE to be evacuated, he was told that only his 7-month-old granddaughter could be flown back.
“Despite over 400 stranded citizens of J&K there is no flight to Srinagar from UAE. I am a 67-year-old diabetic patient. I had arrived in Dubai on a month-long visit visa to take back home (Srinagar) my wife, daughter and 7-month-old granddaughter. We had in fact booked our return tickets for April 9 (Air India), but could not fly back as air traffic was suspended due to Covid-19 pandemic,” Soffi wrote.
He said he was in a “very distressed situation” as his daughter had lost her job and there was no income to survive in Sharjah, where he was living in a rented accommodation.
“We have to leave the rented accommodation in May. What will happen after May only God knows as whatever money we had was utilised during the past two months,” Soffi added.
He said that he had registered self and his family members on April 30 in the database of those to be evacuated.
“I was of firm belief that my family members and I will also find the place in the list of persons flying back to India as I am a 67 year old diabetic. My daughter has no job after she resigned as a teacher in February and her last working day after notice period was on April 2.”
“It was a joyous moment for me when on May 8, I received a telephone call from the Indian Embassy. However, the joy was short lived after I was told that my 7-month-old granddaughter has been selected to fly back to Amritsar on May 13 and she has to pay Rs. 15000 besides give an undertaking that she will have to undergo 14-day-quarantine. When the male caller was informed that she was just 7-months-old and cannot go alone, he said one more person can accompany her,” Soffi wrote.
He then asked the caller that if the mother will accompany the infant, where will the elderly couple go as they had come to stay with their daughter?
The caller, as per Soffi, then took names of all the three family members and assured that something will be done.
“On next day, May 9, another call was received that I have also been selected to fly to Amritsar on May 13 and I have to pay airfare besides remain in quarantine which was agreed by us. She (caller) said that my daughter and granddaughter were already in the list and she will add my wife’s name too.
“On May 10, another phone call from Embassy was received that all the four names have been forwarded to Airlines to accommodate us in the flight to Amritsar. The caller said we will get a phone call from airlines which never came. If final selection of passengers was left to airlines, what was the fun of preparing priority list by the Embassy?” he added.
Soffi questioned how the list was being prepared.
“Had it been true that elderly and ill persons are given priority, then they would not have left us out. Also, how was a 7-month-old baby selected to fly alone?” he questioned.
Soffi said that over 400 Kashmiris, including women and children, were in distress in UAE and wanted to fly back to their homes.
“I took the matter with Dr Nagendra Prasad, Joint Secretary for the Gulf in the MEA. Head of team of officers for Gulf States was kind enough to forward my mail to Consulate General of India (CGI), UAE. I got a reply from CGI twice and each time was assured not to worry as embassy will be with me. I was asked to share the details of my family members which I did long before the decision was taken to evacuate people from UAE. This of course was encouraging for me to fight the distress and remain strong. But for the past three days CGI hasn’t bothered to respond to my mails or phone calls,” he wrote in the letter.
Soffi said he along with his family and over 400 people from J&K were “waiting for justice”.