Pandemic separates agonized expat families

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Updated 05 July 2020

Pandemic separates agonized expat families

  • This was the first time he had spent longer than three weeks without his wife and children in 20 years

RIYADH: As governments across the globe took various measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, many expatriate families have been left agonized by separation from relatives across the world.

Expats stranded outside Saudi Arabia due to COVID-19 will only be allowed to return to the Kingdom after the health crisis is over, government officials have revealed.

Navaz Abdul Rasheed, from Kerala, India, who works in Saudi Arabia as a technical delivery manager at Reuters subsidiary Refinitiv, was separated from his family for several months.

“When I was watching the COVID-19 outbreak in China, I never thought the same situation may happen in Saudi Arabia or in India,” Rasheed, a former chairman of the India International Public School in Riyadh (IIPS), told Arab News.

“It was shocking for me, because I had planned a holiday with my family in the same week when the lockdown was announced, from March 15 onwards for two weeks, to take care of our daughter’s planned dental surgery. I wasn’t sure if traveling was a wise decision in that situation, so I decided to let my family travel, especially when the schools were suddenly closed.”

His company decided all staff would work from home immediately after the outbreak, he added. “I kept myself busy with helping our clients in the financial sector to continue their business without much impact.”

The situation forced Rasheed to start cooking food with the help of recipes from YouTube, while groceries were mostly bought online to minimize errands.

However, staying alone locked down in a villa for weeks left Rasheed depressed. “Once I even thought of flying to India through repatriation flights arranged by the Indian Embassy, as my company has agreed to work from India, with a condition of returning within few months.”


Expats stranded outside KSA due to COVID-19 will only be allowed to return to the Kingdom after the health crisis is over.

This was the first time he had spent longer than three weeks without his wife and children in 20 years.

“My family was in quarantine for 28 days in India and my daughter’s surgery was postponed due to lockdown in Kerala. The children struggled initially to attend online classes with internet bandwidth issues. My daughters are worried, especially the worry is at paramount for my second daughter Asiya who is completing her 10th grade this year at the IIPS,” he added.

All these challenges and worries compounded Rasheed’s mental stress. The news of COVID-19 cases and deaths added to the pressure his family was already experiencing.

“It wasn’t easy for me to convince my family that I am doing well and there is nothing to worry (about),” said Rasheed.

He decided to minimize watching COVID-19 news, and started spending more time in work, taking online courses and engaging in voluntary educational activities.

Rasheed is hoping for a COVID-19 vaccine to be found and successfully tested on humans.

Hareez Mohamed, a Sri Lankan expat working in the Kingdom at Adma Shamran Company, has suffered similar issues. “My daughter has completed her final year of university in Malaysia and is disheartened because she is unable to come back home due to the travel restrictions,” Mohamed said.

Another Sri Lankan expat, Chandana Kulathunga, who works as a sports coordinator at the Sri Lankan International School in Riyadh, said his daughter was now stranded in Canada. “My daughter wants to be with us as she is concerned about her safety during the COVID-19 pandemic,” he told Arab News.

The two families, with children in two different continents, share the same worries of the inherent uncertainty for their children’s well-being.

They added that they barely sleep during the day and subsequently stay awake to compensate for the varied time zones to connect with their children online.

“Across the fabric of time and space, the only element that knits us together and keeps us going is hope, the hope that soon, one day, we can hug our children in our safe arms again,” said Kulathunga.


Fahad Al-Azzam, assistant deputy minister for empowerment at the Saudi Ministry of Health

Updated 14 August 2020

Fahad Al-Azzam, assistant deputy minister for empowerment at the Saudi Ministry of Health

Fahad Al-Azzam has been the assistant deputy minister for empowerment at the Ministry of Health since September 2019.
He has also been the general manager for enterprise at the ministry’s project management office since July 2016, where he developed and implemented a standard set of project management processes and models, and built the framework and updated it to account for developments and best practices.
It was announced on Monday that Al-Azzam’s role as assistant deputy minister for empowerment has been extended for another year.
Al-Azzam obtained a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals, Dhahran, in 2007. He studied abroad in the US, obtaining a master’s degree in engineering and technology management from the University of Bridgeport, Connecticut, in 2014.
Prior to his current position, Al-Azzam worked as a cooperative trainee at the Saudi Electricity Co. between May and October 2006.
At the Advanced Electronics Co., he worked as an assistant field service engineer between July 2007 and May 2009, and technical support and field service engineer between May 2009 and December 2010.
At the Saudi Food and Drug Authority, he worked as senior electrical engineer at their radiation safety department between January 2011 and February 2015.
He developed a safety program for exporting and importing electronics devices to and from Saudi Arabia and worked at controlling the risk resulting from the use of radiation-emitting devices. He also worked there as a project manager at their project management office between February 2015 and July 2016.