Saudi Arabia government is set to ship 11,600 Nigerians reportedly stranded in the country back home due to the coronavirus pandemic, an official said.
The Nigerian embassy official, who is privy to the development but asked not to be named as he was not authorised to speak to journalists, said the Saudi’s decision was contained in a letter addressed to the embassy a few weeks ago.
The source added that the list, according to the Saudis, includes Nigerians who had visited the country for umrah – a lesser hajj – and were held up by the movement restrictions introduced by Saudi authorities as part of containment measures.
The kingdom, which recorded its index coronavirus case on March 2, had initially imposed a travel ban on some neighbouring countries before extending it to include European countries and 12 others, on March 12.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, confirmed the development. He said Nigeria’s logistics challenge has been responsible for the delay in the repatriation.
Speaking on Tuesday shortly after taking part in the daily media briefing by the Presidential Task Force on COVId-19, Mr Onyeama told Premium Times that some of the stranded Nigerians would have landed about a week ago, but that the country does not have enough facilities to accommodate them all for the 14-day quarantine period.
He said; “We are aware of this… In fact, they wanted to land last week, but they couldn’t because there was no arrangement to receive them.
“As you heard, we have a capacity we can absorb. The medical people have to monitor them for two weeks for quarantine. But there is only a certain number of port health authority staff who are able to monitor all these people as they come in.
“As the SGF said, we have to finish the ones we have, then allow some more to come in. We can’t allow everybody to come in because we don’t have the capacity to house them and also to monitor them medically.”