On Tuesday early morning, when Neela Yellaiah reached his home in Kamareddy, Telangana, he found that everything had changed beyond his expectations.
It was hard for him to recollect his good old days as his memories had faded. He was returning home after 16 years through an amnesty from the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
He had been stranded on the streets of the UAE without a job, food and shelter. He was mentally unstable as well.
Yellaiah was able to return home after a decade and a half thanks to Indian social workers in the UAE and the UAE government.
While Indian social workers in UAE and India made the plea, the UAE government waived off Yellaiah’s Rs 29 lakh fine for overstaying.
“The roads have changed. There are new shops on the streets. The house colour was also different when I left. My daughter was a baby then. She has grown up. She has got married. She has a son. I am a grandfather now! In 16 years, everything has changed,” Yellaiah told The Lede over the phone from Chinthamanpalli village in Domakonda Mandal of Kamareddy district.
“My wife was telling me that when I left, I belonged to Andhra Pradesh and now, I belong to Telangana. I am understanding that. But I have understood that in 16 years, when I wandered on the streets of UAE without much help, many things have changed here,” Yellaiah added.
It was in 2004 that Yellaiah left on a job visa to Dubai from Telangana.
For a while, he worked as a mason in Sarja Kamba building in Sharjah. He left the job without collecting his passport from the employer and his life as an irregular migrant began.
For the next 16 years, he seems to have had a sketchy existence which involved moving around with fellow workers from the state and eventually becoming part of the homeless, jobless, and paperless faces in the city.
With no means to a phone, he would occasionally connect with his wife by calling her neighbour’s phone back home using help from friends in Sharjah.
During his phone calls, for a few years, Yellaiah had been repeatedly asking his family to try and get him back to India. But their efforts failed till Rupesh Mehta, a volunteer from a social service organisation ‘Jain Seva Mission’ (JSM) in UAE, noticed Yellaiah’s plight and decided to take up the case.
Rupesh met Yellaiah while he went to distribute food packets for people living on the streets as part of pandemic relief efforts.
Speaking to the stranded people on the streets, he realised that everybody wanted Yellaiah to be sent back as he was in a dire condition.
Rupesh sought help from other civil society organisations to help Yellaiah attain an emergency certificate and eventual repatriation.
The issuance of an Emergency Certificate or EC (a temporary one-way travel document called a White Passport) was possible only if Yellaiah submitted previous passport details when he entered the UAE 16 years ago.
Yellaiah had no evidence other than a voter ID card and ration card to prove his nationality.
The search for details about his previous passport was further made difficult by COVID-19 related restrictions in Hyderabad too.
In India, Bheem Reddy, President of the Emigrants Welfare Forum, was also trying his best to find a way to bring back Yellaiah.
Rupesh and Reddy planned to bring back Yellaiah through the amnesty declared by the UAE.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak and lockdowns, travel was restricted to and from UAE. Additionally, government offices were not functioning to renew visas and work permits. Eventually, the work permits of many migrant workers expired. However, considering the special situation, the UAE government announced an amnesty.
Amnesty is a scheme announced by Arab governments for overstaying migrant workers to return home without paying any fine.
So Rupesh and Reddy wanted to make use of the opportunity.
Luckily, on August 05, the Regional Passport Office found Yellaiah’s passport details and forwarded them to the consulate of Dubai, which helped the Dubai Consulate to issue the Emergency Certificate for Yellaiah to travel back.
“When the EC issue was resolved, the next challenge we faced was overstaying fine. We knew that it would be a huge amount. However, we didn’t want to remain idle. We decided to seek the help of the UAE government,” Rupesh said.
According to UAE immigration regulations, those whose visas expire and reside illegally have to pay an overstay fine of 25 UAE Dirhams (Rs 500) per day.
This meant a hefty fine of 1.46 Lakh Dirhams (Rs 29 Lakhs) for 16 years for Yellaiah.
“We, along with the Indian embassy, approached the UAE government officials. They heard the story and took a positive decision. Yellaiah’s fines were waived off. It was a blessing for us,” Rupesh added.
And on Monday, Yellaiah finally arrived on an Air India Express flight from Dubai to Hyderabad.
Reddy said that initially, the amnesty was only until August 18.
“But the UAE government extended it to November 17. And that helped us to get breathing space,” Reddy added.
Upon his arrival, the NRI Department Officer of the Telangana government was present at the airport and Yellaiah was permitted to be at home quarantine as he was returning penniless.
Will Yellaiah Return Home After 16 Years?