South Africans in Saudi who missed their flight still have hope

Ninety-three South Africans have been repatriated from Saudi Arabia and another group is on its way.

According to the department of international relations, the 93 South Africans landed back home on Tuesday afternoon. They have been taken to various quarantine facilities.

But another group of about 40 missed their flight after they struggled to get permits to travel from Saudia Arabia’s capital, Riyadh, to Jeddah.

Belinda Hammerse, one of the 40 South Africans, told the Mail & Guardian that although they ultimately managed to obtain their permits to make the 1 000km bus trip, they missed their 9am flight. Only 34 of the group actually made it to Jeddah.

“When we arrived in Jeddah, members of the South African consulate were waiting for us. They apologised and said they tried to delay the flight, but could not.”

But the group still has hope —  they have been promised a flight back on Thursday and have booked into hotels in Jeddah.

Hammerse says after the stressful events leading up to their long journey, she is now feeling well-rested and happy the ordeal is coming to a close and that she will soon return home to her ailing mother.

She said she is thankful for the efforts by the South African consulate in Jeddah and the team from the consulate that have kept them in the loop throughout their journey.

Elton Kruger, who is also waiting for the Thursday flight, says that though he is hopeful, he still cannot shake his disappointment at the costly ordeal. 

He told the M&G that the bus cost the group about R80 000, which was split between those able to make the trip, and they have to pay about R4 000 each for the two-night stay at their hotel.

Kruger added: “Now our next problem is getting the rest of the guys remaining in Saudi Arabia. We’ve got people in Al Tamam, Khobar, Medina and people we had to leave behind in Riyadh who couldn’t get to the bus on time.”

He said there were about 250 people in total stranded in Saudi Arabia before the 93 made their flight home.

“People are still stressed and worried, but we are close now.”

On Monday, spokesperson Lunga Ngqengelele told the M&G that the department of international relations was focussing its efforts on repatriating South Africans from the Middle East “because we have not been able to bring back as many people”. 

He emphasised that officials are “aware of all South Africans who are stuck across the globe”.

According to the department’s newsletter on its repatriation efforts, by the end of last week 3639 South Africans have indicated that they were stranded and require assistance to return home. “The overwhelming majority are stranded as a result of lockdowns announced in many countries and the almost complete cessation of flights.”

Meanwhile, by Wednesday morning the number of Covid-19 cases in Saudi Arabia had risen to 11 631, with a death toll of 109.

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Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit
Sarah Smit is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She covers topics relating to labour, corruption and the law.

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