Dhaka, April 16 : Bangladesh will operate special flights to five countries -- Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Singapore -- to help its stranded expatriate workers rejoin their workplaces there.
"We don't want to see our expatriates face any difficulty... that is why the Bangladesh government has made coordinated efforts to help expatriates return to their workplaces in five countries on special flights from Saturday without any hassle," Foreign Affairs Minister, Dr A.K. Abdul Momen told IANS on Friday.
The government decided to allow airlines, including state-owned Biman Bangladesh Airlines, to operate the special flights.
Momen said: "Many reached out to us after the announcement of lockdown, saying they'll lose their jobs if they can't go abroad, and their visa validity or Iqama (work order) will expire." Biman Bangladesh airlines and others will operate around 100 special flights to Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, the UAE and Singapore for a week from April 17 to carry migrant workers to their respective workplaces.
The national flag carrier will operate special flights to Dammam, Jeddah, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Doha, and Singapore from 6 a.m. on Saturday.
The passengers have been asked to arrive at the airport six hours before the scheduled flight with a negative Covid-19 certificate, the airline officials told IANS.
The Riyadh-bound special flight BG5039 will leave the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka at 6.15 a.m. on April 17 instead of 4 a.m., airline officials added.
On April 11, the CAAB suspended operation of all international passenger flights to and from Bangladesh for a week from April 14 following government instructions, placing in jeopardy the fate of around 20,000 to 25,000 Bangladeshi migrant workers who had to return to their workplaces in different countries.
About a possible rise in fares, the Minister said normally the fares of special flight tickets remain comparatively higher than that of regular flight tickets as the return flights will be empty. However, the ground handling charge will remain the same which will help keep the fares at a tolerable level, he added.
Momen also assured that the 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, will have arrangements made for them on a priority basis so that they can reach their destinations, he said.
The government has made arrangements to bring those passengers who purchased tickets from Chattogram to Dhaka as the special flights will be operated from the capital city.
He said the relevant ministries and departments are working in a coordinated way, and police will not stop them who have booked tickets and have Covid-19 test reports.
The government has also decided to discourage expatriate Bangladeshis from returning home during the lockdown, unless there is an emergency.
"If they come, they'll have to follow a minimum 14-day mandatory institutional quarantine," Momen said.
To convey the message to expatriates, support from the social media platforms, Bangladesh missions' websites and community leaders will be taken.
Each of the returnees will have to show Covid-19 negative certificate which is a must, and the Bangladesh missions abroad will prepare the lists of those who need to come to Bangladesh on an emergency need.
The Armed Forces Division will take adequate preparations for institutional quarantine facilities in Dhaka, Chattogram and Sylhet.
The decisions were taken at a virtual inter-ministerial meeting held on Thursday, chaired by the Foreign Minister, and attended by Health Minister Zahid Maleque, Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment Minister Imran Ahmad, State Minister for Civil Aviation and Tourism Mahbub Ali, State Minister for Foreign Affairs M. Shahriar Alam and senior officials of the other ministries concerned.
Among the expatriate Bangladeshi workers who want to go to these five countries, those having BMET clearance from the Ministry of Expatriates' Welfare and Overseas Employment, will be given priority in flying abroad.
Bangladesh's citizens, who will go to the UAE for work with visit visas can get a BMET clearance, Momen assured.
However, those who have visit visas, but do not have BMET clearance, will not get priority.
During the lockdown, those who wish to travel to countries other than the five mentioned countries in the case of emergency will be able to travel on special flights as transit-passengers subject to clearance from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.