Over 40 migrant workers who were deported from Saudi Arabia on Thursday have been held at Entebbe International Airport over failure to pay for the mandatory COVID-19 tests.
Uganda commenced mandatory COVID-19 testing for all arriving passengers last Wednesday, a process that requires each arriving passenger to pay USD 30 or its equivalent of UGX. 110,000.
According to the Ministry of Health, deportees are exempted from the payments. But on Wednesday, 43 deportees were asked to pay for the tests or risk sleeping at the airport. The deportees landed around 1 pm aboard Ethiopian Airlines and were held in the waiting area at Entebbe International Airport.
None of them had a passport, but they were cleared through immigration using their deportation orders and boarding passes.
Zaina Namissi, who was a domestic worker told URN that she departed for Saudi Arabia early this year but fell out with her employer for failing to pay her salary for a period of four months. By August, she says, she was thrown into the streets and then to a detention centre where she was held until her deportation yesterday.
The first deportee left the airport at 7 pm after her mother and sister mobilized funds for the test. Her mother, very bitter about waiting since 9 a.m. said the government should have some compassion on the returning workers because none of them had money or personal belongings,
“Their phones and personal belongings were confiscated when they were put in deportation centres in Saudi Arabia. So how will some of them pay for these tests when they cannot even contact their relatives?”
Hamidah and Eve, who say they spent four and nine months respectively in deportation centres faulted the government for asking them to pay for the tests. Hamidah, 35, says her employer dumped her on the streets because she had demanded payment of her salary arrears of three months.
“When I insisted, my boss drove me out of his home and left me on the street. I didn’t know anybody or even where I was. I was later arrested by police where I spent one month in detention and another three months in the deportation centre until I was deported with other Ugandans on Wednesday.” She said.
Eve, 23, shares that her employer became hostile and the working conditions were unbearable. “I would sleep for only three hours and work for the rest of the time, yet I was not being paid. So when I requested for reduced working hours and my salary arrears of four months, I was thrown out.” She says she pleaded with security officers to release her without paying for the tests.
The duo departed the airport after 10 pm because other passengers came to their rescue and paid for their tests. However, 11 deportees were still stranded at the airport by the time of filing this story. They are mainly Ugandans who have failed to contact their relatives or friends to raise money for the tests because they do not have phones.
The deportees and those returning from work decry long working hours, non-payment, harsh and rude employers, and sickness as some of the reasons they could have failed to complete their contracts of two years in Saudi Arabia. Officials from the health and gender ministries were yet to comment about the matter by the time of filing this story.