KOZHIKODE: Dhouha Hafsi, a 34-year-old Tunisian national, had been feeling quite desperate after the nationwide Covid lockdown kicked in on March 24. The reason: Her visa was scheduled to expire on April 5. A rattled Hafsi, here on a three-month visit to practise yoga and do a course in Ayurveda, got in touch with the Tunisian mission in New Delhi.
Around the same time, fellow Tunisian Hassine, factory manager of Tunisia-based Al Badr Seafoods, had been stuck in Kochi since all the flights were grounded. Along with his Tunisian colleagues Nader Bel Hadj and Farid Laroussi, he frantically called up the Tunisian embassy in New Delhi. It was then that Tunisia’s envoy to India Nejmeddine Lakhal decided to form a WhatsApp group of Tunisian nationals trapped in the country.
The formation of the group in late March proved to be a major relief to 35 Tunisians, including the four in Kerala, trapped in India. “I contacted the ambassador personally to know the procedure for visa extension. I was confused at the turn of events. But the ambassador managed to dispel all doubts and provided help. My visa got extended,” said Hafsi, a translator and neurolinguistic programming trainer.
Soon, the group became a merry confluence of Tunisians in the country, with members posting photos/videos of Tunisian food they cook, share jokes as well as news of relatives and family members back home. The members include a pilot, students and those attending training courses and internships, people who came on a tourist visa and persons enrolled for ayurveda courses. A camaraderie soon developed which is of crucial importance during a lockdown.
“The embassy was extremely supportive and helped lift our spirits. Continuous lockdown meant mental fatigue as well. There is much concern over flying back to Tunisia. But the embassy rose to the occasion and made us feel at home. I got introduced to many Tunisians through the group,” said Hassine, 52, who came to Kochi six years ago. Nader, 30, is the assistant production manager of the company and Farid, 62, is the production manager.
Keeping spirits high
Nejmeddine Lakhal, Tunisia’s envoy to India, told TNIE that he took the initiative to form the WhatsApp group to stay in touch with Tunisian citizens on a daily basis. “We respond to their grievances and enquiries, update them on measures taken by Indian authorities and on any travel plans to Tunisia. The ultimate aim is to keep their spirits high in these testing times,” Lakhal said.
The ambassador profusely thanked Indian authorities for facilitating the extension of visa of stranded Tunisian nationals. Now, all of them are keeping their fingers crossed on flying back home.