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. Children under six years and vaccinated airline crews are exempted from taking the tests. Each arriving passenger is expected to pay 30 US Dollars or its equivalent of shillings 105,000.
However, Emmanuel Ainebyoona the spokesperson for the ministry of Health says deportees with documentation are supposed to be tested at zero cost.
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.
But the first deportee departed the airport at 7 pm. This was after her mother and sister mobilized funds for the test.
Her mother, very bitter about waiting for her daughter from 9am on Wednesday said the government should have some compassion. “These people do not have any money. 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?”
Some of the deportees who spoke to our reporter but did not want their names revealed said they are disappointed with the government.
Hamidah and Eve, who say they spent four and nine months respectively in deportation centres made it clear that government should not have asked them to pay for the tests.
Hamidah, aged 35 years, 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 Thursday.” She opposes charging deportees because she says they are already in distress.
Eve, aged 23years, shares a similar story, saying 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 said she pleaded with security officers to release her without paying for the tests. “I was surprised that the police officers allowed me and two other girls to exit without paying money. But this was after we had begged for some time.”
The duo departed the airport after 10 pm because other passengers came to their rescue and paid for their tests.
However, eleven 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.
Meanwhile, three girls who returned from Saudi Arabia say they are also stranded at the airport because they do not have money for the COVID-19 tests.
Zaina Namissi, who was a domestic worker, says it is sad that she was tortured abroad and being subjected to inhuman treatment at home.
She says her employer did not pay her salary arrears of four months. She departed for Saudi Arabia early this year. But by August, she had fallen out with her employer, resulting in her eventual return to Uganda.
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.