The Moroccan Embassy in New Delhi informed MWN on Monday that they are continuing to provide Dounia with a place to stay and vowed to pay for her plane ticket to a European country, from where she will arrange her own travel home to Morocco.
Morocco began carrying out repatriation operations in May and opened its borders to citizens and residents on July 15, but the plight of Moroccans stranded abroad is still ongoing. One Moroccan woman stranded in India, unable to afford a plane ticket home, may soon have to sleep on the streets while she waits for repatriation—or a miracle.
Visiting India had always been a dream for 25-year-old Dounia.
After saving up MAD 15,000 ($1,594) to take the trip of a lifetime, the Casablanca native departed for her solo adventure in India on February 22. Her return date was scheduled for March 23.
When Morocco shut its borders on March 15 to contain the spread of COVID-19, Dounia was one of an estimated 33,000 Moroccans who became stranded abroad.
Five months later, Dounia’s dream of India has become a nightmare.
Sleeping on the streets of Mumbai
After the date on her return ticket had passed, Dounia still had yet to hear back from the Moroccan Embassy in India regarding accommodation and other services for stranded nationals.
With only enough money left for food and nowhere to stay, Dounia was forced to sleep on the streets of Mumbai.
A friend she met online before traveling to India finally came to her rescue. After he picked her up from the streets, the duo traveled by train to the city where his family lives.
But when they arrived at the train station in his family’s city on March 24, the day India entered lockdown, Dounia was “caught” by the police.
The police allegedly told Dounia that foreigners were no longer “allowed .. to stay roaming around the country” after the onset of lockdown.
Dounia told Morocco World News that the police took her passport and contacted the Moroccan Embassy in New Delhi. The diplomatic representation then quickly reached out to her and arranged accommodation.
Expired meal ticket
The embassy has been hosting Dounia for the past four months. But now that Morocco has opened its borders and launched flights to several international destinations, the Moroccan embassy’s services for stranded nationals in India are no longer available. With the Moroccan government warning that total lockdown still on the table, getting home is as urgent as ever.
Given that Morocco did not arrange any flights to India during the repatriation campaign from mid-May to mid-July, Dounia believes that some 100 Moroccans are still stranded in the South Asian country.
While getting home seems simple enough given Morocco’s reopened borders, Royal Air Maroc’s exorbitant ticket prices present an insurmountable hurdle for some Moroccans.
“The current flight operating to Morocco from India costs around MAD 20,000 ($2,125), which is 3-5 times more than the usual rate. I do not have any money with me to be able to afford it,” Dounia told MWN.
“They’re asking us to buy a flight ticket to go to one of the destinations that Royal Air Maroc can reach, then buy another flight ticket with to reach Morocco,” she continued.
Moroccans must also pay for their own COVID-19 tests, which the Moroccan government requires travelers to undergo 48 hours before entering national territory.
Dounia said these tests cost approximately $70 in India, stressing, “We can’t afford these prices.”
She told the Moroccan Embassy in New Delhi that arranging her own travel home is not an option. In response, she said the embassy assured her that plenty of Moroccans have already purchased tickets home and advised her to to the same.
‘I’ll be in the street by tomorrow morning’
Dounia’s funds have dried up, and two options remain: Scrape up $2,125 for a ticket home or sleep on the streets of New Delhi.
For Dounia, whose family has recently fallen on hard times, the pricey plane ticket is simply out of the question.
“My family is already under severe debt. My father is a pensioner and my mother is a housewife. Our savings have been wiped out due to my father’s leg’s treatment. And I have not gone to work for 5 months,” she told MWN.
“Trust me, if there was any money left with me or my family to buy that ticket, I would.”
Far from her family, Dounia’s mental health has deteriorated. Knowing that borders are open but she cannot afford to fly home, she told MWN, “All of this is getting worse day by day.”
A plea for repatriation
Dounia has to check out from her current accommodation by Monday, July 27.
“I know no one here. I’m begging the embassy to extend my stay. I have nowhere to go but I’m still receiving the same answer so far,” she said.
“As a foreigner with no money, I will not get any safe place to stay. I can not afford hotels and nobody will rent me a small room with the money I have left for food,” she continued.
“I’ll be in the street by tomorrow morning.”
With mere hours before she essentially becomes homeless in a foreign country, Dounia is still hoping that the Moroccan government will intervene to facilitate her repatriation home.
“All of the Moroccans who are still here, they hope so. Even if the hope is very little.”
On Monday, the Moroccan Embassy in New Delhi provided exclusive information to Morocco World News regarding Dounia’s case.
The diplomatic representation argued that it has been continuing to “provide assistance” for Dounia, including accommodation and food, as well as for other Moroccans who asked for help.
“Only [a] few of them are still in the region as most have left and already got back home,” the embassy confirmed to MWN.
The embassy also vowed to continue to serve all members of the Moroccan community in India, including tourists, “within the limit of its possibilities as it has done so far.”
Regarding Dounia’s case, the embassy said it covered the costs of Dounia’s travel to New Delhi from another Indian city to avoid “serious troubles” for her “such as experiencing a mandatory quarantine in that city as she was the only Moroccan national stranded there.”
The diplomatic representation stressed that it had to file a request from the “competent authorities and to seek the help of local police to get necessary clearances for her to move to Delhi.”
The exclusive information shows that Dounia benefited from the embassy’s service of accomodation and food provision for more than 120 days, since March.
“The Embassy has been paying, without disruption, her hotel accommodation (stay and food) and providing for her essentials and even more things. Even the hotel where she is staying right now, it was her own choice with insistence,” the embassy underlined.
The statement added that the embassy, which refutes all allegations from Dounia, is still covering her stay expenses. It is doing so “despite the many complaints received from local authorities and different hotels where she stayed. The Embassy wouldn’t allow any harm to happen to her.”
Read also: Moroccans Stranded Abroad: 3 Women’s Stories