Mumbai: At Versova camp, a Spaniard waits for a flight home

·4-min read

Mariano Cabrero

There are many reasons why Mariano Cabrero stands out in a camp set up for the needy at the Civil Defence Ambivali ground near the Versova Metro station.

The 68-year-old retired teacher from Pontevedra in Northwest Spain, arrived in Mumbai from Barcelona in on December 5, 2019. “I came here on a holiday,” said the solo traveller, who now finds himself on a fresh mattress and bed linen but under a high roof on an open ground in a camp set up by the Harmony Foundation for the civil defence and the Home Guard to run.

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On Saturday, the camp housed 285 people, who had no where to go when the countrywide lockdown was announced last month to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sporting an olive green jacket, an orange shirt with Devanagari print, several strings of beaded necklaces and a sling bag with an embroidered elephant, Cabrero is replete with attributes of a typical foreign tourist in India.

“I took a flight from Barcelona to Dubai to Mumbai. I arrived in December and I have been traveling across India for four months. I was in Udaipur, Rajasthan when I was told at my hotel that I should go back because flights were going to be cancelled. I took a bus from Udaipur and came to Mumbai on March 22 to take a flight back but the airport had been shut down. I had nowhere to go,” he said.

He added that he spent the next few days at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport Termial 2. “I stayed at the airport for days. I slept on the floor, there were bathrooms but then I was told that I cannot stay there because they were closing it down. I was told by some police officers at the airport that I could come here,” he said from behind a yellow face mask provided by to all housed at the camp.

Cabrero said he had tried to reach out to the Spanish embassy in Delhi and the consulate in Mumbai. “I need help to go back but I was told everything is going to be closed till April 14,” the sexagenarian added.

Back home in Spain, one of the countries worst hit by COVID-19 , Cabrero said his family was safe. “I have four children, three boys, one girl,” he said. His eldest is 40 and the youngest 26.

Amid migrant workers stranded at train stations, beggars and homeless workers living on the streets of Mumbai as well as tech-savvy young men who could not make it to their homes, Cabrero, however, said he felt much safer at the airport.

“It was cleaner and safer. Safe for you and your luggage too. I have money. I want to go to a hotel but I don’t know how to go. I have asked the police to help me. They said they will take me out of here in a day or two,” Cabrero, the only foreign national in the camp, added.

At the camp, Cabrero uses the facilities that all other inmates do. A clean mattress, bedsheet and blanket, meals, mobile toilets, mosquito repellant and fans. Home guards and civil defence officials ensure their safety round the clock.

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Deputy Controller of Civil Defence, Rajeshwari Kori, said, “We informed the Spanish embassy in Delhi about him. The Consulate General in Mumbai has also reached out to him.”

When contacted, Consul General of Spain in Mumbai, Jorge de Lucas Cadenas, said, “After we were informed about his case, we reacted as soon as possible but there are limits to what we can do. We have put him in touch with his former wife and his son and we hope his family will assume responsibility from here. We will try to put him on any plane going to Europe.”

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