- Migrant workers having BMET clearance of expatriate welfare ministry will be prioritised to go abroad
- Migrants having visit visa but no BMET clearance will not get the priority
- All Bangladeshis going to the UAE to work with a visa will get BMET clearance
- Special flights will be arranged for passengers missing their overseas flights due to lockdown in last 3 days
Many Bangladeshi migrant workers, having confirmed tickets to go back to their workplaces, thronged in front of the Saudi Airlines office at Hotel Sonargaon in the capital on Friday amid uncertainty over their flights due to the suddenly imposed lockdown from 14 April.
But they had to return to their homes disappointed as the office of the airlines was closed due to the ongoing weeklong strict lockdown.
Although the government has decided to operate special flights from Saturday for the migrant workers bound to five countries – Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, Qatar and Singapore – Saudi Airlines authorities are yet to take any decision about resuming their flights.
Lokman Khan, a Bangladeshi migrant working in Saudi Arabia, was found standing on the pavement beside the airlines' office.
He said, "I rented a car from Brahmanbaria and reached Dhaka this morning. I came back to the country on a three-month leave. My flight date was 17 April and my visa is valid till 22 April."
"We have heard in TV news that flights will be resumed from 17 April. But I did not find anyone here in the Saudi Airlines office. The police refused me and others to enter the office premise and advised us to go back home," he added.
Md Sharif came from Noakhali. His flight was on 14 April, the day when the countrywide lockdown began.
He said, I hired a car for Tk5,000. But no official on behalf of the airlines is present at the office to tell us about any updated information."
Another migrant Abul Basar said, "My flight is at 2 am tonight (Friday). We heard in the news that the plane operation has started. That is why I came for Covid test."
Omar Khayyam, manager (sales), Saudi Airlines Dhaka office, said, "The government's notice to operate special flights was published after 12am on Thursday night. We have informed our higher authorities in Saudi Arabia regarding the issue. But, we are yet to get any feedback from there. However, starting a flight is a matter of some preparations."
"Earlier, we cancelled all our flights after the Bangladesh government cancelled all international flights. But if we want to resume our flights, there are multiple issues to consider including crew availability. Besides, we have to consider whether the flights would be commercially viable or not as the government has specified the passengers' number in return flights," he added.
Khayyam said, "If we do not operate flights, we can consider refunding ticket prices, so that the passengers can choose other airlines."
He said that their staff were not present at the office due to lockdown.
Meanwhile, Biman Bangladesh Airlines is going to start operating special flights to Riyadh, Dammam, Jeddah, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Doha and Singapore from 6:00am on April 17.
Around 21,000 Bangladeshi migrants were scheduled to leave the country to their working destinations in Middle Eastern countries during the week-long lockdown. Both aspirant and stranded migrants are suffering due to the uncertainty created due to the cancellation of international flights during the period by the government in a bid to stem the recently increased spread of coronavirus.
However, special flights will be operated from 17 April for Bangladeshi expatriate workers stranded in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Oman, Qatar and Singapore. In this case, Biman Bangladesh Airlines and other Bangladeshi airlines and national carriers of the respective countries will be able to operate special flights.
The decision was taken at an emergency inter-ministerial virtual meeting chaired by Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen on Thursday evening.
Expatriate Bangladeshi workers – who want to go to these five countries and have BMET clearance issued by the Ministry of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment – will be given priority in those special flights.
However, those who have a visit visa, but no BMET clearance, will not be prioritised. Bangladeshi migrants wishing to go to the UAE for work with a visit visa will be provided with BMET clearance.
Sources said passengers who have not been able to reach their overseas destinations during the past three days due to lockdown, despite buying tickets, will be repatriated by Biman Bangladesh Airlines or additional special flights of national carriers of the respective countries. Passengers who have already purchased tickets to travel from Chittagong will be brought to Dhaka by a connecting flight of Biman Bangladesh Airlines.
Foreign minister Dr AK Abdul Momen told the media that travel arrangements will be made on a priority basis for those who have visas and work permits.
"Those who bought tickets for April 14, 15 and 16 but could not leave Dhaka for their destination due to suspension of flight operations, arrangements will be made for them, too on a priority basis so that they can reach their destinations", he added.
During the lockdown, those who wish to travel to other than those five countries mentioned above will be able to travel on special flights as transit-passengers subject to getting clearance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In those five countries or on the way to the airport, transit passengers will have to carry a passport/ valid visa/ air ticket/ BMET card or a pass issued by the security agency.
The meeting was attended by the Minister of Health and Family Welfare, Minister of Expatriate Welfare and Overseas Employment, Minister of State for Civil Aviation and Tourism, Minister of State for External Affairs and other senior officials of the concerned ministries.