Published on Feb. 11 following the crash of Kish Airlines flight 7170 in Sharjah
(This story was filed based on the personal experience of being in Kish for a visa change only a few months earlier)
Fading out on the threshold of a new life
It was the return-ticket to a new life that eventually became the one-way ticket to death for many who perished in the plane crash on Tuesday.
Many passengers in the ill-fated plane were returning from Kish, a duty-free zone some 200 kilometres from Dubai, and a convenient exit point for expatriate employees to obtain new visas.
While the coral island wears a picture of pristine calm, Kish has a collective gasp hanging in its air: It is that of uncertainty aired by hundreds who fly in — many finding themselves caught in a limbo when the wait for their visa takes days.
The airfare covers one-night’s stay at a reasonably furnished hotel room in Kish. A room is shared by six to eight individuals and the breakfast — a long, flat bread, a boiled egg and tea — is on the hotel.
Though Kish has stretches of bewitching coastline, a “visa-changer” would rather spend his day in the hotel, crowding in the business centre where visas are faxed in from the UAE.
There are long queues before telephone booths, of people in this “no-man’s land” awaiting news of the fate of their visa application back in the UAE. Mobile phones from the UAE will help, with luck, take incoming calls.
Sun-down brings darkness in the minds of those who fail to get a visa. This also means shelling out Dhs35 for the night in the hotel. The cost covers breakfast, served in a common dining hall, but leaves out the other expenses on food.
An Iranian biryani would cost Dhs7 to 9 but that is sheer luxury for the many who are left to fend for themselves in a foreign land with little money in their purse.
This after, depositing Dhs1500 with the authorities as a security to bail you out in case you are stranded in the island.
It is not uncommon to find people left behind for weeks, seeking your help for some money, a little food, or one phone call. Taxi-drivers speak of people who live in hiding in mud-settlements on the way from Kish city proper to tourist spots including the Ancient City, the remains of an 800-year-old city.
Some of the more enterprising ladies have been reported to have found temporary employment as maids and shop-assistants. All are not that lucky.
The victims of today’s crash, who were travelling in from Kish got their visas, alright. Probably after a long wait. Or without delay. It doesn’t matter now.
Death has snatched from them a new life. That, just a few minutes before an immigration stamp on their visas was to open up a new living.
– Rajeev Nair