A mentally ill migrant labourer from Telangana has been living on the streets of Dubai for 16 years now
“We have been trying to bring him back for four years now,” says Raju, nephew of 48-year-old Neela Yellaiah who has been in Dubai for the past 16 years, mostly as an illegal immigrant unable to return.
Yellaiah’s family in Telangana, which at the time he left the country consisted of his mother Bhoomavva, wife Rajavva and a still breastfeeding daughter Sunanda have lived in his absence all these years.
His daughter Sunanda is now married and a mother to a nine-month-old daughter.
Yellaiah’s wife Neela Rajavva worked as a domestic help to keep the household running in his absence. She has had no means to secure her husband’s return even though he had wanted to come home for some time now. Their hopes last rose when Yellaiah’s nephew Raju got himself a job in Dubai.
Raju who worked in Sharjah for the past two years had searched for his uncle upon reaching there.
“I found him. But not in the best of circumstances,” says Raju. “He was just living in the public parks and benches. He would sometimes eat whatever the Pakistanis or the others there gave him,” says Raju.
“Some days he ate, on other days he just drank water. We couldn’t do anything to bring him back,” says Raju. “We approached the Consulate at the time of his daughter’s marriage. But my uncle had no documents with him to prove who he was.”
With no means to pursue matters further, Raju says they left things there. In the aftermath of COVID-19 early this year, Raju returned home to India, resolving never to go back again. His uncle, it seemed, was bound to fade away in a faraway land.
It was in 2004 that Neela Yellaiah left on a work visa to Dubai from Chinthamanpalli village in Kamareddy district, now part of Telangana.
For a while he worked as a mason in Sarja Kamba building in Sharjah. It is not clear why Yellaiah left the job without getting his passport back. His life, as an illegal immigrant 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 acquaintances 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. Raju was a hope. But he had to return to India two months ago.
But someone else was to come to Yellaiah’s aid.
“I first met Yellaiah when in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic we were distributing food packets for people living on the streets,” says Rupesh Mehta, a volunteer working with Jain Seva Mission. “I spoke to people who I thought were in need of help. And even amongst those who needed help themselves, they all wanted me to make sure that Yellaiah goes back home to his family.”
Rupesh sought help from other civil society organisations to help Yellaiah attain an emergency certificate and an 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 of 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 were further made difficult by the COVID-19 related restrictions in Hyderabad.
In an e-mail sent to the Regional Passport Officer in Hyderabad, migrant rights activist Bheem Reddy, President Emigrants Welfare Forum, wrote on behalf of Yellaiah’s wife - “Mr Rupesh Mehta sought the cooperation of the Pravasi Mithra Labor Union in Telangana to consult with Mr Yellaiah's family members and co-operate in gathering evidence in this regard.
Representatives of Pravasi Mithra organization brought Mr Yellaiah's wife Mrs Neela Rajavva to the Passport Office in Hyderabad on Monday (27.07.2020). She tried to meet the Regional Passport Officer personally, but due to the Corona situation it was not possible.”
Yellaiah’s wife Rajavva submitted a letter appealing to authorities to search and release details of his passport so that the consulate in Dubai could issue an Emergency Certificate. But there was no response.
When The Lede spoke to Yellaiah’s family through his nephew Raju as well as to Bheem Reddy, conditions seemed difficult to secure a timely repatriation for Yellaiah back home.
“August 18 is the last date,” said activist Bheem Reddy Mandha over phone. “UAE amnesty for over-stayers will end on 18 August 2020. If we don’t get an Emergency Certificate issued before that, Yellaiah may have to face jail time or have to pay penalty.”
With just 13 days left, Yellaiah’s nephew Raju was fast losing hope.
“We are trying to find at least some details about his passport,” said Raju, frustrated and despondent. “We don’t have anything. No copies or anything else. We have been going around for a long time now,” he said.
Rupesh Mehta, based in Dubai, had positive news to share when contacted.
“The good news is that the Regional Passport Office has found his passport details and forwarded them to the consulate of Dubai this morning (August 05). So the Dubai Consulate can go ahead with issuing him an Emergency Certificate so as to enable him to exit the country,” Rupesh told The Lede.
“The Consulate’s response has been very helpful from the beginning. In fact, they were the ones who guided me through each step to be followed in Yellaiah’s case as well,” Rupesh said.
It will take a few more days at least before Yellaiah can return home. Life will still be difficult for him though.
In a video appeal shot by Rupesh, Yellaiah is seen trying to articulate his plight. With great difficulty he stitches together a few sentences in broken Telugu.
“He has difficulty with memory as well as in comprehending and articulating. It might be because of repeated exposure to the heat here,” says Rupesh.
But better times await Yellaiah and his family. He will finally be home, if all goes well.