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Entebbe airport Covid-19 screening terminal

Over 40 Ugandan migrant workers who were deported from Saudi Arabia were blocked from leaving Entebbe airport after failing to pay for the mandatory Covid-19 tests. 

Uganda commenced mandatory Covid testing for all arriving passengers last week Wednesday. Only children under six years and vaccinated airline crew are exempted from taking the tests. Each arriving passenger is expected to pay $30 (about Shs 105,000) for the tests. 

Although ministry of Health spokesperson Emmanuel Ainebyoona says deportees with documentation are supposed to be tested at zero cost, on Wednesday, 43 deportees were asked to pay for the tests or risk sleeping at the airport.

The deportees landed at about 1 pm aboard Ethiopian Airlines. But the first deportee only departed the airport at 7 pm. This was after her mother and sister mobilized funds for the test. Her very bitter mother said the government should have some compassion for its citizens.

"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?" she said. 

Some of the deportees who spoke to our reporter but did not want their names revealed said they are extremely disappointed with the government. Hamidah and Eve, who say they spent four and nine months respectively in deportation centres in Saudi Arabia said given their predicament, the government shouldn't have charged them for the tests. 

Hamidah, 35, says her former employer dumped her on the streets in Saudi Arabia because she had demanded payment of her salary arrears for 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 says it's illogical to charge deportees who are already in distress.  

Eve, 23,  shares a similar story, saying her employer became hostile and the working conditions became 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," said Eve.

She says 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."

But unbeknown to her, other passengers had come to their rescue and paid for their tests but now 11 other 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. 

Zaina Namissi, a domestic worker who voluntarily returned home, says it is sad that she was tortured abroad and is now 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 in Saudi Arabia. By URN, The Observer

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