Faced with criticism over ad hoc repatriation flights, the government has after nearly three months of lockdown finally announced a tentative list of chartered flights to bring back Nepalis stranded abroad. On Thursday, the first two flights following the government’s pre-planned schedule and chartered by the Kuwait government landed with female undocumented workers.
There was outrage in social media last week after the first flights on 5 June from UAE and Burma brought back passengers who were not on the priority list of those needing immediate evacuation. The list included undocumented and laid off workers, women, pregnant and disabled Nepalis and those stranded after short-term visas expired.
The 324 passengers in two flights from Kuwait City who arrived in Kathmandu Thursday had spent 45 days in transit camps set up by the Kuwait government for amnestied undocumented workers from Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal. Of the 7,000 undocumented Nepalis, half opted for the amnesty, and are being flown home phasewise on Jazeera Airways.
Of overseas Nepali workers who have registered with embassies to return to Nepal, the UAE has the highest number followed by Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Malaysia. Many are documented workers who have been laid off because of the global economic downturn.
In addition, there are also Nepalis on family visits to the US, Canada, UK, Japan, Australia, those on short-term visitor visas, as well as students and expat Nepalis in Southeast Asia, who want to come home.
The government had said the delay was caused because of preparing testing and quarantine facilities on arrival for them before allowing incoming charter flights, and on Wednesday, the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation finally issued a proposed schedule for flights for the next two weeks to urgently airlift 24,148 Nepalis abroad to be operated by Nepal Airlines and Himalaya Airlines. In addition international airlines like Qatar Airways and Turkish Airlines will also be allowed to fly in passengers from North America.
From 14-25 June, Nepal Airlines Airbus330 will operate flights next week to Dhaka, Malé, Dubai, Melbourne, Bangkok, Bahrain, Narita, Kuwait, Nicosia, Sydney, Doha, Seoul, Oman, Osaka. Flights to North American destinations have not yet been decided. Its single-aisle Airbus320 will be flying passengers from other regional destinations. The carrier will perform 24 flights till 25 June.
Himalaya Airlines will also be operating 19 flights to bring back stranded Nepalis back from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Phnom Penh, Dhaka, Doha, and even Lagos and Uganda in the next two weeks, according to the ministry’s flight timetable. International airlines will also be flying two flights a day solely for Nepali returnees. All passengers except those whose tickets are paid by employers or the host government have to pay their own fares. (Flight schedule 14-25 June below)
The government has allowed more than 35 international charter flights to repatriate more than 12,000 tourists and expats trapped in Nepal, since flights were stopped on 22 March. However, Nepal Airlines, Qatar Airways and Korean Airlines have also been flying out Nepali nationals on work visas and permanent residents to Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Korea.
The ministry has also fixed the price for tickets in each sector. (See table below)
Besides Nepalis coming in, there are also those who were on their annual leave from work in Nepal and could not fly out because of the lockdown. A Nepali couple who had been in Kuwait form seven years came home for holidays on 24 February, but have been trapped in Kathmandu since. They had been hoping to be put on the flight going back, but the government is only allowing repatriation flights for foreigners stranded in Nepal.
Passengers who arrived on Thursday will be swab tested at the airport and taken to holding centres in Kathmandu Valley set aside for each of the seven provinces. They will wait there for two days for results, and if negative will be transported to their home provinces where they will have to quarantine or self-isolate for two weeks. If positive, they will be taken to isolation wards in Kathmandu.