Evacuation: 230 Nigerians stranded in Dubai

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Evacuation: 230 Nigerians stranded in Dubai

About 230 Nigerian returnees are stranded in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) following the failure of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to get flight clearance for the Lagos-bound Emirates Airlines aircraft.

It was learnt that for three weeks, the ministry has not been able to tidy up the arrangement for the evacuation of the 230 Nigerians.

But most of the evacuees, who allegedly paid about N242,000 per head, could not understand why the ministry allowed them to book Emirates flight without any solid arrangement.

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Worried by continued failure to secure flight clearance, the Emirates Airlines on Friday canceled the flight.

Officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have however put the blame on the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 for not concluding arrangements, including flight clearance, to repatriate the affected Nigerians.

According to investigation conducted by our correspondent, the 230 returnees had been scheduled for flight EK0783 from Dubai (1020) to Lagos by 1500 on April 26, 2020.

The Nigerian Ambassador to UAE, Mallam Mohammed Dansanta Rimi, had since April 5 issued COVID-19 Travel Advisory to Nigerians on the Emirates.

It was also confirmed that Rimi had also opened a line of communication with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the list of Nigerians willing to return home.

The initial positive response of the ministry made the Nigerian Embassy in Abu Dhabi to ask the 230 returnees to pay for their tickets.

But as at April 22, there was no commitment from the Federal Government on flight clearance for the Emirates aircraft bringing in the stranded Nigerians.

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It was gathered that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs could not complete the three-week process.

In a note to the Nigerian Embassy in the UAE on April 22, the Emirates airline desk officer said: “Based on the list provided by you, our office has been doing the call outs. As of now, we have approximately 230 passengers confirmed to travel. There are some more passengers coordinating through Debbie.

In the meantime, I would like to bring to your notice of a very critical issue to ensure we have this flight operated as planned.

“Our office in Lagos has been notified by a member of the Nigerian Presidential Task Force on COVID -19 (Dr. Haggai) that your good office (Nigerian Embassy in UAE) has to coordinate with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nigeria to ensure that the protocol for quarantine and other required measures are in place prior to the flight.

“We are assuming that you have the necessary approvals and arrangements in place in Lagos for us to carry these passengers.

“Could you please confirm back to us that all arrangements as required by the Nigerian government are in order for the flight EK 783/26APR that is scheduled to depart Dubai at 1020AM. Appreciate if you could confirm this to us by end of 23APR2020. Thank you.”

Based on the concerns of the airline, the Embassy on April 22, 2020 communicated with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as follows: “Find attached letter from Emirates confirming if the Ministry is liaising with the appropriate authorities for clearance/approval for the impending flight amid the lock down in Lagos. Awaiting your response, please.”

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As at Friday (yesterday) when there was no official flight clearance for the 230 Nigerians, the Emirates Airlines aborted the trip.

It sent a notice to the returnees, saying: “Flight cancelled. The following flight(s) have been cancelled in the light of current health concerns globally. Flight details: EK0783-Dubai International Airport (Origin), Murtala Muhammed Airport, LOS (Destination) on Sunday April 26th. Please contact your travel agent for further assistance with your booking. We are sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.”

Although some of the stranded Nigerians have tried to reach out to the Chairman, Nigerians in Diaspora Commission, Mrs. Abike Dabiri-Erewa, she only replied on Twitter as follows: “Like I said, final decision is with the Hon. Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyema. The mission will reach you once they get directives from the Minister.”

As at the time of filing this report, the fate of the stranded 230 Nigerians was unknown with many claiming that they had spent their savings to buy tickets.

It was learnt that each of the passengers coughed out about N242,000 for the one-way ticket based on the fares contained in the COVID-19 Travel Advisory Update by the Consular and Immigration Section of the Nigerian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

The advisory reads in part: “Sequel to the Mission’s travel advisory notice dated 9th April, 2020, this is to inform members of the Nigeria community in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) requiring emergency evacuation during this challenging period of Coronavirus pandemic that Emirates Airlines is making arrangements to operate a special flight to repatriate Nigerians from Dubai to Lagos tentatively on 26th April, 2020, and this will be subject to obtaining necessary clearance from the relevant Nigerian authorities.

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“In view of the foregoing, ticket fare is still at AED 2,500 for economy class (one-way) and AED 5,000 (one-way) for business class while passenger (s) with existing Emirates ticket will have to pay the fare difference based on the current value of their tickets.

“It should be reiterated that the airline will operate the flight subject to available number of interested passengers. Enquires can be made directly to the airline call Centre by calling 600 555555. In addition, passengers will be required to undergo COVID-19 test at Dubai International Airport and on arrival in Nigeria.

“While expressing the Embassy’s readiness to respond to further enquiries, please note, information earlier received are compiled and forwarded to the Nigerian Government for appropriate action. As soon as firm arrangement has been made, all concerned persons will be notified accordingly. “

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