The devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on migrant workers in Saudi Arabia has pushed Nepalese expats on to the streets of Riyadh. Hundreds of workers from the South Asian country have staged a demonstration demanding to be repatriated home, but COVID-19 restrictions have made their return home a nightmare.
The workers, who have been unemployed for the past six months due to the global pandemic, have not been provided enough flights to return home even though their employers are said to be willing to sponsor their air fares and pay for PCR tests, a technique used to check for virus.
There is confusion over who is responsible for their ordeal, the Saudi company and the Nepalese embassy appear to be in disagreement. “The company points at the embassy, the embassy points at the company. Where do we go?” an exasperated Nepali worker is reported saying in the Nepali Times.
A major problem for the beleaguered workers is the limited number of flights out of the kingdom. The Nepal government is said to have put a cap of 800 arriving passengers per day at Kathmandu airport after a restricted number of flights were allowed on 1 September. This has created a bottle neck with many of the 300,000 or so Nepalese workers in Saudi desperate to return home.
Because of the quota, the Nepal government reportedly turned down a request by the UAE to fly 1,120 stranded workers home for free on Etihad Airways. Transguard in the UAE has also not been able to get permission to charter flights to transport its Nepali employees home.
The situation of migrant workers in Saudi Arabia is said to have become “hellish”. Last week a Sunday Telegraph investigation found that hundreds, if not thousands of black African migrants were being locked up in squalid conditions in coronavirus detention centres, reminiscent of Libya’s slave camps.
Following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic in March, Saudi authorities feared that foreign migrants, often housed in overcrowded conditions, would be carriers of the virus. Almost 3,000 were deported to Ethiopia in the first ten days of April and a leaked UN memo said a further 200,000 were to follow, according to the report.