“It was very good news for thousands of Egyptians stranded in the Gulf that they will soon be returning home. The conditions they are facing, in the Gulf in general and in Kuwait in particular, are difficult.
All the uncertainties have led to tensions, which erupted when they demonstrated last week in their camps,” said Abu Mohamed, an Egyptian worker who found himself stranded in a camp in Kuwait.
Abu Mohamed was among hundreds of Egyptian workers who overstayed their visas as a result of the suspension of flights on 19 March and were subsequently housed in shelters.
Demonstrations in the camps were dispersed by Kuwaiti police, after which the Egyptian authorities began to work on bringing people home.
Three exceptional flights from Kuwait arrived on Monday, and last week two EgyptAir special flights returned 600 stranded Egyptians from Kuwait.
Arrangements are being made for flights to return the 5,300 Egyptians whose visas have expired from Kuwait, Nabila Makram, minister of immigration and expatriate affairs, said last week.
“The number of Egyptians stranded in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE is large. Arranging their return in a way that protects them, and the country, is not a simple process,” she said.
Around 2,500 stranded Egyptians have already returned home from the US, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkey, Uganda, Rwanda, Chad, Niger, the UAE, and Sudan.
“During the repatriation process, priority is being given to those who were on medical visits, business trips, tourists whose holidays have ended and students who have had to leave their university accommodation and have nowhere else to go,” Makram said. Following an intervention by the prime minister, workers whose visas have expired and humanitarian cases have been added to the priority group.
All passengers arriving in Egypt are tested for coronavirus. Passengers who land at Cairo International Airport are transferred to university dormitories, while those who land in Marsa Alam are transported to designated hotels to be quarantined for 14 days to make sure they are free of the novel coronavirus.
Twenty-seven university hostels across the country are being used to quarantine repatriated Egyptians, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar told the media this week.
Some stranded Egyptians have returned via sea from Saudi Arabia, and land from Sudan.
Last week 150 labourers were returned from Duba in Saudi Arabia to Safaga by ferry. Citizens arriving in Safaga on the Red Sea spend their 14-day quarantine in student accommodation at Al-Wadi University in Hurghada.
Repatriations are coordinated by the Ministry of Immigration, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Ministry of Health and the Foreign Ministry. A task force headed by the prime minister has received thousands of requests for help from citizens stranded abroad.
More flights are expected in the coming days to return Egyptians, especially in the Gulf regions.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 14 May, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly