UN official warns mass deportations risk spread of coronavirus to the region
The Ethiopian government is set to receive over 3,000 Ethiopians deported from Saudi Arabia after the kingdom took the measure in response to coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak in the country.
The Minister of Health of Ethiopia, Dr. Liya Tadesse told a local newspaper that over 3,000 Ethiopian will be arriving from Saudi Arabia in the coming two weeks.
Over the past 10 days, up to two flights a day carrying Ethiopian migrants have landed at Addis Ababa international airport, before returning to Saudi Arabia loaded with cattle exports.
According to one UN official, a total of 2,968 migrants have already been deported to the country in the first 10 days of April.
“This is simply not the moment for mass deportations from a public health perspective,” said Catherine Sozi, UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Ethiopia. “These mass deportations, without any pre-departure medical screening are likely to exacerbate the spread of COVID-19 to the region and beyond.”
Health Minister Liya Tadesse agrees that the health of the returnees is indeed a concern for her government as the deported citizens didn’t get coronavirus test before their departure from Saudi Arabia.
As a precaution, the returnees will be hosted on university campuses upon return, in a separate room, during the two weeks mandatory quarantine period.
A senior Saudi official, however, denied that the kingdom was conducting forced repatriations.
“We are co-operating with individual countries to say ‘do you want your people back, are you able to receive them, what can we help to enable them to come back?’” the official said. “And where countries have responded positively, we are organizing flights, some of it we pay for to send them home, but we are not forcing people.”
Ms. Sozi said the UN was calling for a temporary suspension of the deportations to give Ethiopian authorities time to plan properly for the migrants’ safe repatriation. Ethiopia could not be expected to cope with the sheer number of deportations, she said.
“If you keep receiving 600-700 migrants a day and they all have to go into quarantine something will break,” said one western official in Addis Ababa. “The fear is that they will dump these people here and that the conditions in the quarantine centers will guarantee the spread of the disease.”
The returning of thousands of Ethiopians is expected to bring challenges to the health and economy of Ethiopia, which has already begun feeling the severe impacts of COVID-19 pandemic.
Thousands of Ethiopians work in Saudi Arabia, mainly as maids.
Foreign workers account for about a third of Saudi Arabia’s 30m population and more than 80 percent of the kingdom’s private sector workforce.
Thousands of illegal Ethiopian migrants from the Tigray region have been stranded at the Yemeni-Saudi border after being denied crossing into Saudi Arabia because of coronavirus fear. (click to play the video)
There is an imminent medical crisis at one of the mass quarantine spots in #Ethiopia, AASTU, where 3,000 deportees from Saudi Arabia are being kept, as many of the returnees have been subjected to malnutrition, dehydration and physical abuse. https://t.co/GdAfYgxfc1 pic.twitter.com/5mPQAaFI65
— Addis fortune (@addis_fortune) April 13, 2020