DUBAI (Middle East Eye) – Thousands of migrant workers bound for Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have been stuck in Dubai after both countries imposed a two-week entry ban for foreigners as Covid-19 cases surge.
While Saudi Arabia’s ban started from 3 February and covered migrants from 20 countries, Kuwait’s began on 7 February and covers all foreigners except first-degree relatives and servants of citizens.
Saudi Arabia was off-limits to foreigners most of last year as it struggled to contain the pandemic.
The prolonged suspension of flights that began on 14 March had only ended on 3 January.
What makes the entry ban particularly troublesome this time is the inclusion of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in the list of countries that Saudi Arabia has banned all flights to and from.
Before the ban, those who wanted to fly from countries where there were no direct flights had been using Dubai as a transit hub to reach Saudi Arabia and Kuwait.
Apart from the UAE, the Saudi list includes Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Germany, France, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Switzerland, Sweden, Brazil, Argentina, South Africa, India, Indonesia, Pakistan, Japan, the U.S. and the UK.
For expatriate workers who had come to Dubai after mid-January en route to Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, the travel ban was a rude shock.
Covid-19 lockdowns, a lack of work and family reasons, such as dying parents, meant many had left Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and then returned.
With the initial lifting of travel bans to the two countries, many expatriate workers had rushed to Dubai to reach their destination before the expiration of their visa.
The majority of those stranded had borrowed heavily from friends and relatives to spend an average $1,100 on a "Dubai package” - which covered the airfares from their home country to the UAE and then on to Saudi Arabia/Kuwait, a 14-day hotel stay, food, visa charges and a mandatory Covid-19 test.