The coronavirus fight in Egypt started out strong. Schools, gyms, and restaurants closed, followed by a two-week flight suspension and an airport closure decision that has been renewed a couple of times ever since. Egypt was praised for its strong stance against the novel virus when a curfew was enforced to prevent any gatherings and to force people to stay home and practice social distancing. When the flight suspension first got extended, Egyptians who were traveling were left stranded in countries all over the world with limited resources beyond Egyptian expats who generously chose to open their homes and wallets to those affected. The Ministry of Emigration called out to all Egyptians stuck abroad – students studying abroad or anyone traveling with a short-term visa – to get in touch with the ministry, and the exceptional repatriation flights started coming into Egyptian airports. So far so good.
Among the first repatriation flights coming into Egypt were flights from Britain and Kuwait. Prior to traveling, passengers got in touch with the Egyptians embassy to book their seats on the flight and were told they would be quarantined for two weeks in Marsa Alam – no other option. They were also told that they’d have to pay for their by-the-beach quarantine in a Marsa Alam resort and to sign a quarantine commitment letter, meaning that it is compulsory and that otherwise they wouldn’t be allowed into Egypt. When these stranded Egyptian nationals refused to quarantine at their own expense, the Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi signed a declaration that the expenses of their stay would be covered from the donation-based national fund, Tahya Misr. This decision was praised and deemed as a step in the right direction in Egypt’s fight against the coronavirus.
Later on, when a flight came in from Washington, D.C fully packed with Egyptians, the media covered the entire event as the 275 Egyptians went through tight security and medical procedures. Disinfectants were sprayed on everyone, their luggage was cleaned every couple of steps, snacks were presented, and that’s all before they arrived at their seaside quarantine resort with three-course meals covered. Everyone who returned on this flight took to social media to praise the government’s efforts in this five-star quarantine and to share their experience.
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Following the arrival of the flights from London, Kuwait, and Washington, the Ministry announced 22 more repatriation flights that are planned to arrive until the end of April. However, not all flights are created equal. This new batch of flights is coming in from 20 countries around the world to rescue stranded Egyptians from the Maldives to Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Europe, carrying what's now calculated to be over 3,500 Egyptian citizens stranded abroad. While this is great news for those stranded and running out of resources amid a global pandemic, the devil here is in the details.
A statement from the Egyptian Embassy in Canada announcing the opportunity for stranded Egyptians in Canada to register their names with the embassy should there be any potential repatriation flights. Among the repatriation requirements is the "willingness to cover the costs of the flight to Egypt and a 14-day quarantine."
As embassies the world over began issuing statements and releasing details on the upcoming repatriation flights, there was recurring confusion around whether or not quarantine expenses would be covered via Tahya Misr as they were before. The short answer here is 'no'. All repatriation passengers have had to pay for their own (painfully inflated) airfare, but this time around they were also required to pay the fees for the duration of their mandatory 14-day quarantine in Marsa Alam. What are the fees? Those looking to stay in a single room would pay a total of 21,000 EGP for their mandatory quarantine, while those looking to stay in a double room will pay 10,500 EGP each.
Stranded Egyptians the world over took to social media to express their concerns – and sheer anger – amid heightened anxiety and dwindling options.
In an exchange on the above statement by the embassy in Canada, two people discuss opposing perspectives: The first batch of returnees wasn't informed that they would have to cover their stay from the start, so they refused to pay and stayed free of charge as the fees were covered by the government. Upcoming returnees will have to pay for the whole stay in advance before boarding the flight. But anyone who has been stranded abroad for over two months has surely drained their budget, can they really afford thousands to get back home? It's not fair to anyone. The government could have covered a certain amount while the returnees paid the rest, but why is it necessary for a quarantine to be in a five-star hotel by the beach?
Omar is among 95 Egyptians stranded in Indonesia without any indication of repatriation until very recently. Now that the repatriation flight has been announced, Omar was told that the flight costs $1,050 and quarantine expenses are $672 per person – except he'd already booked return tickets on a flight that's now canceled and wasn't able to get a refund. Thankfully he was able to gather the money for him and his wife to head home, but not everybody can.
معلش وقبل ما رمضان يدخل علينا وعشان الواحد مش قادر يستحمل— ميادة مصطفى (@MayadaaMostafa) April 22, 2020
العالم اللى بتنظر ع العالقين وبيقولوا اهاليهم يدفعولهم وازاى طلبة بيدرسوا برة معهمش ٢٠ الف جنيه دى عالم بنت وسخة قولا واحدا
ويارب يحتاسوا ف يوم من الايام نفس الحوسة ويبقوا يورونا بقي السفالة هتنفعهم بأية
ربنا ينتقم منهم
It appears that some people are baffled at how students studying abroad can't just get their parents to pay that 20,000 EGP in pocket change lying around. Mayadaa Mostafa has som explicit opposing opinions.
For Egyptians stranded abroad in a variety of different circumstances, this is the epitome of being caught between a rock and a hard place. Beyond navigating a global pandemic alongside the rest of humanity, they're now forced to choose between being stranded abroad or paying a hefty price tag to get the least bit closer to home. There are multiple sides to this debate – from the humanitarian and medical to the economic, political, and practical – but tension and anxiety continue to rise as the entire world tries to navigate circumstances that are unprecedented for this generation.