Eight Ugandans missed a special repatriation flight from Saudi Arabia this week after testing positive for coronavirus (COVID-19).
On Tuesday, 113 Ugandans who were stranded in Saudi Arabia due to the COVID-19 lockdown arrived at Entebbe International Airport aboard a flight sponsored by the International Organization for Migration- IOM. They were among the 136 females who were expected to board the flight operated by Air Cairo
Most of the returnees are pregnant and had lost their jobs due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Some were forced to work for several months without pay to get food and shelter while others had to seek refuge at the Embassy after being chased away by their employers.
As a result, they did not have money to pay for COVID-19 tests, air tickets and quarantine costs. The minimum total cost for the three requirements is USD 720 for a returnee in the Middle East.
According to Richard M Kavuma, the IOM Uganda’s Public Information Officer, IOM Uganda worked with its regional office in Nairobi and the IOM Mission in Bahrain to arrange the repatriation flight. He explains that the flight was arranged after the Ministry for Foreign Affairs requested Rosa Malango, the UN Resident Coordinator to help with the return of Ugandan migrant workers stranded due to COVID-19.
Kavuma said the Embassy in Riyadh had registered more than 2,000 people, many for self-payment flights, yet IOM assistance was earmarked for the most vulnerable migrants, who had no way to return. But even then, each of the applicants had to be screened for COVID-19 before their travel could be confirmed.
According to Nurh Byarufu, the Charge D’ Affairs at Uganda’s Embassy in Riyadh, eight of them tested positive for COVID and have since been taken to an isolation centre for medical care. 15 others who came into contact with the eight are under quarantine.
He explains that at the time of testing, the Ugandans were among the 70 people accommodated at the Embassy while others were at a centre that the embassy rents for Ugandans who are stuck in the kingdom and the Middle East.
“Although they missed the sponsored flight, IOM has pledged to sponsor their air travel costs after they recover,” Byarufu says.