Two planes will soon head to Washington and New York to return Egyptians in the US stuck in the two cities due to the coronavirus. Two flights headed to the UK on Tuesday and another four flights operated Sunday to repatriate Egyptians from the UK, according to the Ministry of Immigration and Egyptian Expatriates Affairs.
Laila, a teacher who went with her husband to New York on holiday and to visit other family members, is anxiously waiting for that flight. “We had a lovely holiday that ended badly. We need to return to our work and life in Egypt,” she said.
Another professional, who lives and works in California with her son, wants to be back with family in these difficult times. “I am off from work and my son is out of school until September, most probably. There is no point in staying here. I want to reunite with my family. I hope this will be possible soon,” she said.
Minister of Immigration Nabila Makram said her ministry received various requests from Egyptian students in the US to return home especially following the closure of universities.
The ministry called on all Egyptians stuck abroad and who wish to return to fill an application form available on the ministry’s website or to contact their embassies by phone or in person.
“We give priority to those who were on business trips or went to visit family members abroad and their break ended, or their visas expired, and they have to leave. Given that most of them have no shelter and may not have enough cash, we had to run emergency flights to return them... The return of residents needs more time and different arrangements,” Makram said.
The number of Egyptians stranded in the US is nearly 1,000, according to Makram.
Sources from the country’s carrier EgyptAir were quoted by the media confirming that the company will send a flight to return Egyptians stranded in the US before the end of this week.
The ordeal faced by those waiting in the UK was not less difficult. Hundreds of students studying in UK universities need to return home after the suspension of universities until the next academic year.
Seif, who was studying mechanical engineering in Huddersfield University, was lucky enough to catch a plane one day before the suspension of flights.
“My worst fear was that I wouldn’t be able to go home. I am grateful that I returned at the right time,” Seif said.
Egypt’s suspension of international flights, which began on 19 March, was originally set to last until 31 March but was extended to 15 April.
Another student, Abdel-Rahman, said he called the embassy who were very helpful and assuring. “However, they could not tell me the time of the flight because they did not have any information at the time. They called me after three days to inform me about my travel details. I managed to return home last Thursday, thank God,” he said.
Several flights operated from London on Sunday, Tuesday and last week.
The situation in the Gulf, where thousands of Egyptians work, is no better.
EgyptAir declared last week that it would charter flights from Kuwait to Cairo from 26 March to 30 March. Another flight was added on 31 March.
“I was grateful to catch one of last week’s flights. I visited my daughter who lives with her family in Kuwait. But I had to return to reunite with the rest of the family in Egypt in this difficult time,” a woman who identified herself only as Um Ahmed, said.
But Dina, a teacher working in Kuwait for more than a decade, may need to wait for some time. “I’ve been staying at home for a month now. I may stay another month until I find a flight to take me home,” she said.
Talks are underway with Saudi Arabia to allow more emergency flights to return Egyptians stranded there, according to the Ministry of Immigration.
Talks are also underway this week with the Tunisian Ministry of Aviation to return 37 stranded Egyptians via Tunis Air.
A number of them were on business trips while others are working for UNICEF and UN organisations operating in Libya. They were forced to go to Tunisia to return home.
On Saturday, an emergency flight arrived with 140 Egyptian passengers who were stranded in Oman.
Egyptians in Sudan were allowed to return home by bus.
Egyptians in other countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, Pakistan and some African states may have to wait some more because the number of people who registered with the ministry are not enough to send special planes for them.
Makram called on Egyptian expatriate communities to provide all the necessary help to those stranded until they return to Egypt.
The minimum number of people who are stranded should be at least 140 to send an emergency plane for them, the minister added.
Egypt is also working to bring back home dozens of Egyptian couples on their honeymoon in Southeast Asia’s holiday spots stranded by the coronavirus.
Some 95 Egyptian honeymooners are stranded in the Maldives, 80 in Bali, Indonesia, and many others in Singapore, the minister said.
All Egyptians brought from overseas undergo tests for the coronavirus and are asked to remain in self-isolation for 28 days, after the Health Ministry last week extended the period for those returning from abroad from 14 days.
The return of stranded Egyptians was coordinated between the Ministry of Immigration, the Ministry of Civil Aviation, the Ministry of Health and the Foreign Ministry.
A task group was set up representing the four ministries to receive return requests and respond to all queries. It has received 12,121 requests by Monday, according to Makram.
Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri called on all Egyptian embassies and consulates abroad to assist Egyptians stranded in their countries of residence and notify the ministry of their phone numbers.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 April, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly