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No easy ride back for Kenyans in diaspora

By Mercy Adhiambo | May 6th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Kenya Airways has started repatriating citizens stranded abroad. A flight from London arrived into the country on Monday evening carrying 70 passengers.

It is one of at least three flights expected to bring Kenyans stranded abroad back home. The other two are from India and China.

According to an official at the Foreign Affairs Ministry not authorised to speak to the Press, the number of passengers on the flight from the UK was lower than expected.

This was attributed to the costs of flight tickets, getting Covid-19 clearance and quarantine charges that would be incurred once they are back in the country.

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“The number of people who have been showing interest is low, except for India where we have a full flight,” said the official.

The flight from India is expected to leave Mumbai tomorrow. There will also be another flight from Guangzhou, China on Friday. The returnees are expected to undergo Covid-19 testing and produce a certificate that shows they have tested negative for the virus before they are allowed onto a flight.

“All passengers must undergo a mandatory quarantine of 14-28 days at their own cost as per government of Kenya guidelines,” read a statement issued by Kenya Airways to those seeking to return home.

Kenyans in the diaspora have complained about the high costs they are being subjected to, saying they were directed to specific testing facilities that are charging up to Sh30,000 per person.

"I have my family here. We are four of us, and I am expected to pay for the tests. The flights are also very expensive. Add that to the quarantine charges and you realise how expensive it is to be brought home,” said Arthur Ocholla in London.

In the last one week, there have been passenger flights from Egypt and Pakistan. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs says it negotiated the flight prices to an amount that the Kenyans can afford.

Kenyans in the United Arab Emirates claim that the ministry is silent on their pleas to be repatriated.

Chrispinus Masakhalia who is in Dubai says a majority of Kenyans, especially those who work in the hotel industry, are now jobless and are desperately waiting for a flight to come back home.

“All my colleagues who were foreigners have gone back home. It is heart breaking to see other governments sending flights to take their citizens home. Others even bring army planes to take their people,” he says.

Masakhalia says the situation is so dire that they are now facing threats of being taken to prison by landlords due to unpaid bills.

The ministry however says UAE was among the first places they targeted for repatriation, but when they sent a message for Kenyans to apply, only 13 people showed interest, and that was not economically viable.

Anita Njoki, who is in Doha, Qatar, says they never got such a message, and that she has been making incessant calls to the embassy, only to be told that they are still working on documentation. “It is frustrating. I am running out of money. I have no job. I just want to go back home,” she said.

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