Kingdom’s embassies offer crucial lifeline for Saudis stranded abroad due to pandemic

Saudi Ambassador to Indonesia Essam bin Abed Al-Thaqafi reassuring Saudis about their safe return to the Kingdom. Saudi missions around the world continue to provide advice and accommodation for stranded citizens. (Photos/Supplied)
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Updated 31 March 2020

Kingdom’s embassies offer crucial lifeline for Saudis stranded abroad due to pandemic

  • Saudis stranded abroad by coronavirus tell Arab News how they cope

RIYADH: Hundreds of Saudi citizens stranded abroad due to the coronavirus travel bans are living in the lap of luxury at the expense of the Kingdom.
Since the first case of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) was reported in Saudi Arabia, the government has been taking all necessary measures to protect its people through the closure of schools and offices to the halting of international and domestic flights.
And Saudi embassies around the world have been working day and night to organize the safe return of citizens, posting flight deadlines and important contact numbers on Twitter.
However, not all Saudis studying, working or on vacation in other countries have been able to make it home.
As the world battles with the pandemic, the Saudi government has been trying to ensure the well-being and health of its citizens stranded abroad, urging Saudi nationals to abide by the rules and regulations of the countries of their residence.
The Kingdom has expanded a ban on international flights for two weeks to help authorities fight the virus effectively within the country.
A number of Saudi families, tourists, businesspeople and students have found themselves stuck in the US capital, Washington, DC with no idea of when the next evacuation flights will take place.
However, the Saudi Embassy has provided luxury hotel accommodation for stranded Saudi nations including full-board meals and free laundry services.
Ayman Nassief and his family were on a two-week holiday in Orlando, Florida when the travel ban came in.
“When they closed Disney World in Orlando, we sensed something, and decided to go back to Washington to take the first flight to Saudi Arabia,” said Nasseif, an architect from Jeddah who had traveled to the US with his wife Safinaz Salamah, a pediatrician, and their daughter Hatoon, a freelance graphic designer.
“I knew that the flight had been canceled before I arrived in DC, so I called the embassy on their dedicated hotline. The embassy immediately made arrangements for our stay at the Hilton McLean hotel.”
The Saudi Ministry of Health made it mandatory for people entering the Kingdom after March 11 to go into 14-day quarantine and Nasseif said his family’s places of work had been very cooperative and understanding over their situation.

 

 

Safinaz said she was keen to get back to Saudi as soon as possible to help in her role as a pediatrician. “I wish I was there to return some of the favor that the government has bestowed upon me.
“I sit here with my family at the expense of the embassy; it is taking care of our accommodation, food and even paying for our laundry here. Now I really know what it means to be Saudi,” she added.
Nasseif said: “We understand the burden on the government, and we want to go back as soon as possible, but we realize how big the pandemic is. It put us at ease that the government was taking extreme measures to fight the virus, and we stand along with them.”
Another Saudi citizen, Faten Ahmed, became stranded at the Hilton McLean after her flight home was canceled during a visit to Florida to see her brother.
“Although I am missing my family and home, the help I have received here has made it up for me. I have nothing to complain about. I only hope the world passes through this crisis with the minimum of lost lives.”
Ahmed had only been in Miami for 24 hours before she heard the travel ban rumors and drove immediately to Orlando to catch the first available flight to Washington, DC. However, when she got there all flights to Saudi Arabia had been grounded.

Ibtihaj Al-Hanaki who was in the US capital for a brief personal trip was also unable to return due to the pandemic. Her flight was one of the last to land in the city from the Kingdom before things were shut down.
“I didn’t think that things will escalate this fast, when I finished my business here I tried to go back, but unfortunately it was too late,” the mother of two boys, 2 and 5, told Arab News. “I miss them too much, I didn’t plan to leave them for a long period, and they weren’t prepared for that,” she said.
Nevertheless, Al-Hanaki praised the action of her country to take strict precautions during the coronavirus outbreak, which has brought most of the world to a halt.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Saudi embassies around the world have been working to organize the safe return of citizens, posting flight deadlines and important contact numbers on Twitter.

• Saudi Embassy in Washington has provided approximately 40,000 Saudi students in the US with clear guidance and advisories regarding how to ensure that their studies are not disrupted.

Fahad Nazer, spokesperson at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, told Arab News: “The well-being of Saudi citizens abroad is the top priority of all of the Kingdom’s diplomatic missions around the world.
“The Saudi Ambassador to the US Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan is personally overseeing the embassy’s effort to ensure that Saudis currently unable to return to the Kingdom due to the international travel restrictions, have adequate accommodation until the restrictions are lifted.
“The Kingdom’s embassy in Washington, in addition to its consulates in New York City, Los Angeles and Houston have spared no effort to make sure that the approximately 600 Saudi citizens who were visiting the US and are currently unable to return to the Kingdom have all their needs met,” said Nazer.




A group of Saudis gathered in the lobby of a hotel in Washington, DC.

“The accommodation, provided free of charge, includes transportation from airports to hotels and lodging at hotels, along with complimentary meals. In addition, the Kingdom’s cultural mission in Washington has provided approximately 40,000 Saudi students in the US with clear guidance and advisories regarding how to ensure that their studies are not disrupted, including guidance on distance learning.”
The embassy and consulates in the US have also advised all Saudis to strictly adhere to the public health and safety advisories issued by the states they reside in.
Saudi embassies and consulates around the world continue to closely monitor the spread of the coronavirus and provide advice and accommodation for stranded citizens.
In Indonesia, a video went viral of the Saudi ambassador to the country, Essam bin Abed Al-Thaqafi, reassuring a large crowd in an airport that they would all be cared for. “Our responsibility lies in overseeing that we care for you during this time,” he said.
The Saudi Embassy in Indonesia flew out 800 citizens and those that failed to make the flight have been provided free accommodation.
“There is no doubt that the authorities in the Kingdom are working hard for their return, but after taking all necessary precautions,” the envoy added.
The Saudi Embassy in Egypt helped to evacuate 5,900 Saudis in the space of 72 hours with the Kingdom’s ambassador, Osama Nugali, personally overseeing operations at the airport.
“The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has always been at the forefront of caring for its citizens whether in the country or abroad. The instructions we received from the leadership were to help facilitate and to accommodate the needs of our citizens during this crucial time,” he told Arab News.


 


Saudis head out as lockdown eases

Updated 29 May 2020

Saudis head out as lockdown eases

  • First day of phased reopening sees visitors flock to waterfronts and malls

JEDDAH/RIYADH: As the 24-hour-curfew period ended, residents of Saudi Arabia headed back outside on the first day of the government’s three-phase plan to transition back to normality after the COVID-19 pandemic.

But as people rushed to take advantage of the newly relaxed measures, streets quickly became crowded and several observers noticed that many were failing to observe social-distancing measures.

Prince Abdulrahman bin Mosaad tweeted: “For there to be traffic in the streets is natural after canceling the 24-hour curfew, but what’s abnormal and unbelievable is the amount of people underestimating the necessity of putting on a face mask and a pair of gloves and keeping a two-meter space between people crowding at stores. This is only the first day. Unfortunately, I don’t think Shawwal 29 (June 21) will be the day we go back to normal.”

In a follow-up tweet, Prince Abdulrahman reminded people that the pandemic does not have a cure or a vaccine yet, and wondered whether people would need to lose a loved one before they came to appreciate the severity of the situation.

University lecturer, Abdulfattah Al-Qahtani (@fattah53), agreed, tweeting: “Sadly, not many understand the dangers of the virus, and what they could be doing to their loved ones. It’s very simple; don’t go out unless it’s necessary. If you absolutely have to, follow precautionary measures from wearing a mask to keeping an acceptable distance between you and others.”

Abdulaziz Al-Omar (@11a_alomar) also replied with suggestions. “It’s important to monitor and penalize facilities and shops that do not follow precautionary regulations, as well as fines against those who don’t wear a mask and don’t keep their distance from others,” he tweeted.

The hashtag #JeddahNow was quickly trending on Twitter in response to the number of people leaving their homes unnecessarily.

A number of users suggested that individuals neglecting social distancing and going out in public without a mask and gloves would be “more afraid of a SR10,000 fine than they are of the pandemic.”

However, many thought that people were overreacting to the traffic around the city’s corniche.

Sa’ad Mughram (@saad_mghrm) tweeted: “Don’t blame people for traffic. There are families that have been pressed together for three months in small apartments and reef houses. It’s their right to go out and see the sky on a short car ride.”

He added: “Overcrowding stores needs to be addressed, but things can be dealt with calmly, without overreacting and perfectionism from some.”

Sadly, not many understand the dangers of the virus, and what they could be doing to their loved ones. 

Abdulfattah Al-Qahtani , University lecturer

Some hailed the efforts made by several popular stores around the Kingdom that are enforcing social distancing, such as Madinah’s Starbucks, where a photo circulating on social media showed people lined up with the recommended space between them, demonstrating what was described as “classy behavior.”

Abdullah Al-Humaid, (@abn_humaid) commented: “It’s wonderful to see such awareness displayed in our society. These are people maintaining social distancing while wearing gloves and face masks.”

Meanwhile, many headed onto the streets of Riyadh looking to regain a sense of normality. “Of course, I went out. I took my mom and sister and drove to the nearest mall to run some errands,” 26-year-old Sarah Al-Jasser told Arab News.

However, Al-Jasser said she was unable to enter the shops inside the mall because of long queues. “I was surprised that people were out this early. We were at the mall by 9:30 a.m. and didn’t expect it to be this crowded,” she said.

By 2:30 p.m. most shops and malls were already closed and empty of customers and shopkeepers, abiding by the 3 p.m. curfew.

Rayed Mustafa, 33, told Arab News he believes the situation is still unsafe: “Just because the country is opening up doesn’t mean it’s safe to go out.”  However, that did not stop him from leaving  the house. “I pulled an all-nighter, put on my face mask and gloves and hit the streets at 6:30 a.m. to cruise the city.”

He added that he stayed in his car and was merely hoping to get some fresh air for his mental well-being. “I’ve been confined in a very small apartment for over a month,” he said. “I needed that change of scenery.” 

He said he made sure to abide by the safety and health measures put in place by the Ministry of Health, and refrained from mingling with people.

Mustafa was taken aback by the number of people he saw on the streets. 

“One of the main streets in Riyadh was filled to the brim — some celebrating, others going out for coffee,” he added.

Billboards have been placed around the Kingdom reminding people to comply with the recommended precautions in order to ensure their safety.