Nelie Erasmus
3 minute read
15 May 2020
11:05 am

400 South Africans who work in UAE struggling to go back

Nelie Erasmus

Some group members run the risk of losing their jobs unless they comply with an ultimatum to return.

It seems as if the plight of 400 South Africans who reside in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but who are currently stranded on local soil, is in the hands of Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

Having been referred from the department of home affairs to that of international relations and cooperation (Dirco), Lunga Ngqelengelele, who deals with repatriation, said a change in regulations pertaining to the Disaster Management Act, is what is keeping the group in the country.

Dirco has facilitated the repatriation of over 4,000 South Africans stranded abroad, by air since 26 March. Hundreds more have also returned through land ports of entry, reports Review Online.

“Current regulations prohibit them from flying out to return to the UAE as the South African airspace is shut,” Ngqelegelele said. This is in line with regulations pertaining to the movement of people across international borders. Any cross-border travel requires the cooperation of both countries, South Africa and the UAE in this instance.

One of the stranded group members, Mark Humphreys, said at the time they returned to South Africa, they could not have foreseen that the Covid-19 crisis and subsequent lockdown would reach the proportions that it had.

“We are now locked out of the UAE our livelihoods, health, family units and psychological well-being are all being compromised. We understood that drastic measures had to be taken to counter the pandemic and that we had to be patient.

“When our respective countries went into the first lockdown, we obeyed the instructions and hoped that the situation would ease up and we would be allowed to return to our families and jobs. Then came a further extension which multiplied our problems, both here and in the UAE,” he said.

According to Humphreys, most of the group members have been stranded in South African for more than two months, and there was no clear indication of when their situation will change.

Humphreys said all the group members have to get permission to return, and that the UAE has to process around 29,000 applications of people waiting to be repatriated back from all over the world.

Applications are valid for 30 days, and if it not approved within that time span, one has to re-apply. Roughly, only 30 of the South Africans’ applications have been processed so far and, while they have permission to return, restrictions keep them from doing so.

Some group members run the risk of losing their jobs unless they comply with an ultimatum to return, while others find themselves in a no-work no-pay situation.

Others arrived in the country on business, for a quick errand, or to visit family, leaving their spouses and in some cases young children behind, expecting to return to the UAE within a few days or a week.

The group includes a woman who returned to South Africa to deliver her and her husbands’ baby, several teachers, and some who desperately need medication which they can only access in UAE due to medical aid prescripts. Some of the group members have to stay in hotels while having to pay rent and other expenses in the UAE.

The uncertainty is affecting most people negatively, and they are becoming desperate, Humpreys concluded.

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