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Can’t afford to go back, & can’t afford to stay in UK: Stranded Indian students

Around 8,000 Indian students are still stranded in Britain with no money for food, rent or ticket back home. Students, did not qualify for the first of the seven repatriation flights which left the UK for India on Saturday with the elderly, vulnerable or people with emergencies on board.

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Last Updated: May 10, 2020, 10.08 AM IST
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AP
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With UK universities closed and courses having shifted online, many students would rather complete their studies in India. (Representative image)
LONDON: It was Tasmay Oza’s childhood dream to study in London. It did come true for a while too. But the lockdown has left the 21-year-old from Anand, Gujarat, stranded in the city with almost no money.

Oza, like thousands of other Indian students, did not qualify for the first of the seven repatriation flights which left the UK for India on Saturday with the elderly, vulner- able or people with emergencies on board. “I respect that they have given priority to the elderly, but our situation is bad too. We have taken hu- ge student loans and lost our jobs,” said Oza who has “bar- ely one month’s funds left”.

With a £22,500 loan, Oza is doing master’s at King’s College London. He worked as a barista but lost his job when the lockdown was announced, and his parents can’t send him more money. “I can’t afford to go back, and I can’t afford to stay here,” he said. A one-way ticket on a repatriation flight from the UK costs £539, with another Rs 30,000 needed to pay for quarantine.

Sanam Arora, chairperson of the National Indian Students & Alumni Union UK, estimates there are around 8,000 Indian students still stranded in Britain. “They are very anxious. It is not confirmed if the government will send more flights.” Volunteers from NISAU have been helping the students with food, accommodation and legal aid since the lockdown began.

Pavithra Veeramany, 28, arrived in the UK in January to do a master’s at Kingston University. She left her five-year-old son and three-year-old daughter with her parents in Pondicherry as she planned to fly to India in April to collect them after selling a plot of land to pay for their dependant visas. Then India closed its airspace.

“My mother, 55, is looking after my kids but her health is not good. She is also taking care of my 95-year-old grandmother who is bed-ridden. I need to go back to help her,” said Veeramany. “The flight ticket and cost of quarantine are really expensive. How will I afford this?”

The Indian National Students Association UK (INSA UK) has been deluged with phone calls from stranded students. “Their student residences are often campuses away from the city that are like ghost towns now with no facilities and with the domestic students having left. Their parents from India are calling us asking us to get their kids back,” said president Amit Tiwari. INSA volunteers have been delivering bags of food and hot meals to penniless students.

With UK universities closed and courses having shifted online, many students would rather complete their studies in India. But for Kalpesh Koli from Mumbai, that is not an option. He is in the second year of MBA and needs to have an 11-month internship. He had a well-paid internship as a buyer, but that ended due to Covid-19.

“How am I going to show the internship to get my MBA?” said Koli, who shelled out £15,000 on his degree. “I wish to go back to India as there are no jobs here and I can’t pay the rent or buy essentials.” He can’t afford the flight back either as his parents are short of funds, said the 33-year-old, who is doing MBA at University of Greenwich.

Harendra Jodha, head of the Rajasthan Association UK, together with 90 volunteers, delivers Akshaya Patra meals and grocery bags to stranded Indian students and anyone else in need every day. “One Indian student looked like a homeless person. I gave him four bags of groceries,” Jodha said.
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