Wait for flights to KSA keeps getting longer

At least 55,000 Bangladeshi expatriates have been waiting to board Saudi Arabia-bound flights with return their tickets in hand since the Covid-19 pandemic halted their return to the Kingdom.

Of the passengers, about 25,000 have return tickets of Biman Bangladesh Airlines and about 30,000 have return tickets of Saudi Arabian Airlines, officials said yesterday.

Biman is the state-owned and national flag carrier of Bangladesh, while Saudi Arabian Airlines is the Kingdom's state-owned and national flag carrier.

There were several other foreign airliners which, before the pandemic, would carry significant number of passengers from Dhaka to different destinations in the Kingdom via stopovers in their respective countries, said sources at the Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.

The airliners are Kuwait Airways, Etihad Airways, Emirates, Air Arabia and Gulf Air.

Recently, expatriate Bangladeshis rushed to sales offices of Biman and Saudi Arabian Airlines, also known as Saudia, in the capital to collect tickets following the Kingdom's announcement of the resumption of its international flights to and from different countries, including Bangladesh.

The Bangladesh government has also given the green light to operate regular Biman and Saudia flights.

Talking to reporters at the state guesthouse Padma, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen on Wednesday said about 5,500 to 6,000 expatriates were able to book their flights to Saudi Arabia in the past few days.

Mokabbir Hossain, managing director and chief executive officer of Biman Bangladesh Airlines, yesterday told The Daily Star that since March 16 around 25,000 Bangladeshi expatriate workers have had return tickets with them to go to Saudi Arabia by the national flag carrier.

Preferring anonymity, an official of Saudia yesterday said they have statistics with them that about 30,000 workers have been waiting to return to Saudi Arabia from Bangladesh.

Tarek Gazi, a migrant worker waiting to return to Saudi Arabia's Riyadh, yesterday said he came to Bangladesh on January 5 this year and was supposed to return on March 22.

He said his return ticket with Biman Bangladesh Airlines was cancelled because of flight suspension amid the pandemic.

Tarek, who is from Chandpur district, said some of the expatriates known to him have already returned to Saudi Arabia after the flight resumption, while their visas and work permits have also remained valid.

"On the other hand, I could not fly because my exit and re-entry visa had expired, while my work permit had also become invalid," he told this newspaper over phone.

Home to more than 22 lakh Bangladeshis, Saudi Arabia is also the prime destination of Bangladeshi migrant workers and the biggest remittance-generating country for Bangladesh.

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