/ 23 April 2020

More South Africans head home from Saudi

O.R. Tambo International Airport
O.R. Tambo International Airport.

Another group of South Africans have boarded a flight home from Saudi Arabia.

The group, who had missed their flight on Tuesday, boarded a plane early this morning from Jeddah, putting a close to their fraught journey home. Their repatriation is the second from Saudi Arabia this week.

According to the department of international relations, 93 South Africans landed back home on Tuesday afternoon. After they landed they were 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.

Members of the group told the Mail & Guardian on Wednesday 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.”

They were promised a flight on Thursday, checked into a hotel and focussed their energy on trying to get more South Africans home. 

Elton Kruger, who made the Thursday flight, told the M&G that there were about 250 people in total stranded in Saudi Arabia before the 93 made their flight home.

“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.

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 3 639 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 Thursday morning the number of Covid-19 cases in Saudi Arabia had risen to 12 772, with a death toll of 114.