Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Returnees who were stranded abroad following the outbreak of Covid-19 have decried the prolonged repatriation process.
Since June, more than 4,600 Ugandans who got stuck overseas have so far arrived in the country from Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, United States of America, West and Southern Africa among others.
However, even as Uganda’s Embassy to Riyadh arranged a flight to repatriate 236 Ugandans from the Middle East on Tuesday, Doreen Ampaire, a domestic worker in Saudi Arabia missed out.
The 25-year-old has been working in Saudi Arabia since 2018. She wanted to return home after her contract expired last month.
She first contacted the Embassy in Riyadh to register as a stranded Ugandan on July 17th. The Embassy responded the next day by sending her the procedures she must fulfill before she is cleared to return to Uganda.
Ampaire however says she got discouraged by the costs of travel within and out of Saudi Arabia. First, she has to depart from Dammam, where she is working to Riyadh airport where all those cleared board flights to Uganda due to anti-COVID-19 travel guidelines. Dammam is 410 km away from Riyadh by road.
From Dammam for Riyadh, she would have to spend about shillings 75,000 to travel by train or 150,000 shillings on a bus or between 400,000 to 850,000 shillings by air.
In addition to domestic travel costs, Ampaire says the embassy informed her that each returnee will pay 2.5 million shillings for a one -way ticket air ticket to Uganda yet this is usually the cost for a return ticket.
As she struggles to return to Uganda, Ampaire says her employer wants to renew her contract, however, she can’t wait to return home.
Patrick Mugoya, the Permanent Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs says that Ampaire and other Ugandans who cannot afford transport costs including air tickets should personally contact the head of Mission in Riyadh who is coordinating repatriation flights from SaudI Arabia and Middle East countries of Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain.
Mugoya also says people like Ampaire may benefit from a flight being arranged by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) for destitute Ugandans.
He however says any Ugandan stranded overseas should take personal initiative to contact the nearest embassy or High Commission, get registered, undertake a COVID-19 test, book a quarantine facility in Uganda and then organise funds for the airfare to Uganda.
Some of the Ugandans who have returned have however questioned the competence of missions abroad particularly Ethiopia, Belgium and Russia.
Ivan Bwowe, a lawyer who got stuck in Iceland says the embassy in Belgium failed to help him return home. He however returned home with the help of diplomats in the UK and USA.
Elamsus Tugume got stuck in Moscow where he had been working on a short term contract at an oil and gas company. Due to the negative impact of COVID-19 on businesses, the contract was terminated in May.
He registered as a stranded national at the embassy but struggled to register for repatriation flights in June.