- Ahmed Yahya
- Journalist – BBC
On February 2, 2021, Saudi Arabia announced a temporary ban on entry to the Kingdom for non-citizens, for those coming from 20 countries, including Egypt.
And the Saudi Ministry of Interior stated that “in accordance with the preventive and precautionary measures recommended by the health authorities in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and in the context of its tireless efforts to control the new Corona virus (Covid 19) and prevent its entry and spread, and for the importance of maintaining the epidemiological situation and public health in the Kingdom, the Ministry would like The Ministry of Interior may announce that it has been decided to temporarily suspend entry to the Kingdom – for non-citizens, diplomats, health practitioners and their families – for those coming from…” The statement listed the names of twenty countries.
The ministry indicated that “the decision includes arrivals from other countries, if they have passed through any of those countries during the 14 days preceding the request to enter the Kingdom.”
The decision came into effect from the evening of the following day, the third of the same month, with the exception of diplomats, health practitioners and their families.
Tarek, a 36-year-old Egyptian who works in a private sector company in Saudi Arabia, did not know that this decision would have a significant impact on him.
Despite that decision, Tariq left Saudi Arabia – where the authorities then allow him to leave only – back to Egypt to spend his annual leave in early March, expecting the travel ban to end within his vacation, which usually extends for two or three months at best.
But after about eight months and until this report was written, Tariq was unable to return to his work, due to the travel ban.
Tarek is not an exception, as hundreds of Egyptians working in the kingdom may suffer the same problem.
Estimates indicate that about 2.5 million Egyptians work in various specialties in Saudi Arabia, which ranks first among the Gulf Arab countries to which Egyptians travel in search of job opportunities.
Since the travel ban decision, the Saudi authorities have been automatically renewing the residencies of Egyptian and other workers who left the kingdom and were unable to return.
After returning from Saudi Arabia, Tariq was keen to receive the Corona vaccine in his country, Egypt, and indeed he received two doses of the Chinese vaccine, Sinopharm – which constitutes the main pillar in the vaccination process against the epidemic in Egypt – and received the first dose on May 17, but he was surprised days later by announcing the Ministry of Health Saudi Health announced its approval of several anti-epidemic vaccines, not including the Chinese Sinopharm.
The vaccines adopted by the Kingdom were Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson.
Tariq was then keen to receive one of those vaccines, and after hardship, he managed to receive Johnson’s vaccine in early September, hoping to travel to the Kingdom whenever the travel ban is lifted.
Indeed, a breakthrough for the crisis of these workers occurred on the twenty-fourth of August, when Saudi Arabia announced that residents from Egypt and other countries to which the ban applies would be allowed to travel directly to the Kingdom, but it set a difficult condition that the resident had received two doses of an anti-Covid vaccine. 19 inside the Kingdom before leaving it, which does not apply to Tariq.
With the continuation of the crisis, many of these workers resorted to traveling to Saudi Arabia indirectly, through Jordan or the UAE and other countries, after spending 14 days there.
The UAE was among the countries from which entry was banned on February 3, 2021, but on May 29, 2021 the Kingdom allowed entry from 11 countries, including the UAE.
And the Saudi Press Agency quoted an official source in the Ministry of Interior at the time that “based on what was presented by the Public Health Authority regarding the epidemiological situation in a number of the announced countries, which showed its stability, and the effectiveness of controlling the pandemic in some of these countries, it was decided to allow entry to the Kingdom for those coming” from the countries. 11 referred to.
The decision also confirmed the application of institutional quarantine procedures for a period of 7 days, against those who come from those countries to whom it applies.
After this decision, Ammar, a 44-year-old Egyptian working in the field of construction and construction in Saudi Arabia, went to the Emirates to enter the Kingdom.
Ammar says: “I arrived in the city of Sharjah on July 1, and only two days after my arrival, Saudi Arabia banned entry to those coming from the Emirates, so I and thousands of Egyptians were stuck there.”
On the third of July, the Saudi authorities announced, among other decisions, a ban on entry to those coming from three countries, including the UAE – along with Ethiopia and Vietnam – “in light of the continuing outbreak of the Corona pandemic (Covid 19), and the spread of a new mutated strain of the virus,” according to The Saudi Press Agency reported.
Ammar had traveled to the Emirates through a travel agency, and “his trip cost 31,000 Egyptian pounds, including entry visa fees, hotel accommodations, and the cost of the institutional quarantine that was scheduled in Saudi Arabia.”
He says, “After the Saudi decision, we were stuck in the UAE, and we contacted the Egyptian Ministry of Immigration, which promised to return us to Egypt, which did not happen.”
He added, “The travel agencies took advantage of our circumstances and negotiated with us, and they forced me to pay an additional two thousand pounds for my return by air to Egypt.”
But after his return, Ammar retrieved the sum of 6 thousand pounds from the travel office, which is part of the financial amount he had paid as expenses for the institutional quarantine – which was scheduled – in Saudi Arabia. Thus, his trip has cost about 27 thousand Egyptian pounds.
Ammar had received a first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine in Egypt before traveling to the Emirates, and after returning from it on July 10, he received the second dose in August.
All that time passed by him while he was waiting in the hope of opening direct travel to Saudi Arabia, especially after he received the full vaccination, but what awaits him has not yet come.
Ammar traveled to Jordan on October 2, to stay there for about 15 days, so that he could enter Saudi Arabia and return to his work there.
In order to enter Saudi Arabia from Jordan, the Egyptian must have been completely immunized with one of the four vaccines adopted by Saudi Arabia, and this was recorded through the “Tawakulna” application, which is an official application approved by the Saudi Ministry of Health to follow up contact, immunization and limit the spread of the Corona virus.
Ammar and all his companions who traveled with him adhered to the required precautionary and official measures.
Ammar succeeded in entering Saudi Arabia from Jordan, and is now already inside the Kingdom.
Ammar adds, “It cost about 45,000 Egyptian pounds – on my trip to the Emirates and Jordan – just to get back to my work that I earn from.”
He continues: “Since I left Saudi Arabia last January until I returned to it, I spent about ten months, which is the longest vacation I have ever had since I traveled to the Kingdom for the first time.”
Ammar says, “I know people who have resorted to borrowing from banks or companies, in order to secure the amount that they can return to Saudi Arabia, while others are still stuck in Egypt and unable to return to their work, because they cannot secure the financial cost even by borrowing.”
The question on Ammar’s mind now – although he does not intend to leave Saudi Arabia and return to Egypt soon – is: “If urgent circumstances force me to return to Egypt soon, what should I do to return to my work after that? Will I go around this circle again?”
It is noteworthy that many countries around the world have taken measures to prevent entry to those coming from certain countries for temporary periods, with the aim of containing the Corona epidemic.
The BBC tried to contact the Saudi Ministry of Health as well as the Saudi ambassador in Cairo for comment, but it was not possible to respond.
Meanwhile, Tariq is thinking carefully about the offers of travel agencies, in order to decide to return to his work in Riyadh, whether through Jordan or the Emirates – where Saudi Arabia opened direct travel from the Emirates again on the seventh of September – or others.
But the man is still hesitant, hoping for a Saudi decision to open direct travel from Egypt, especially after both Saudi Arabia and Egypt expanded their immunization campaign against the Corona epidemic, as well as after the Kingdom recently eased precautionary measures and social distancing measures, as it allowed the use of full capacity in The Grand Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, as well as in gatherings, stadiums and public places.