Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have deported thousands of Ethiopians back to Addis Ababa suspected of contracting the deadly coronavirus.
A total of 2,968 migrants were returned to the East African country in the first 10 days of April, The Financial Times reported citing a UN official.
Some 200,000 Ethiopian migrants in total are expected to be deported by Saudi Arabia, according to the UN, warning it would make the “transmission of the virus” more likely continue.
“This is simply not the moment for mass deportations from a public health perspective,” Catherine Sozi, UN humanitarian coordinator for Ethiopia, told The Financial Times. “These mass deportations, without any pre-departure medical screening are likely to exacerbate the spread of COVID-19 to the region and beyond.”
Saudi Arabia, which has around 30 million people, has so far reported 5,369 confirmed cases of coronavirus with 889 recoveries and 73 deaths. Also, the United Arab Emirates so far recorded 4,933 confirmed cases with 933 recoveries and 28 deaths.
Ethiopia’s health minister, Lia Tadesse, earlier this week confirmed the mass deportation, an act many describe as inhumane and thoughtless.
The deportation of Ethiopians is expected to disturb the preparedness of Ethiopia in its battle against the deadly virus.
“They have been deported in a very congested way, with 300 to 500 squeezed onto single flights, and the number of people who will be returned keeps growing,” Reuters quoted Tadesse as saying. Tadesse said the situation was “becoming a challenge to contain the virus.”
Some of the migrants she said had tested positive for the deadly outbreak, adding that all returnees will be quarantined for 14 days in schools and universities.
Meanwhile, officials of the Gulf States said the deportations were done in partnership with countries of origin of the migrants.
“We are co-operating with individual countries to say ‘do you want your people back, are you able to receive them, what can we help to enable them to come back?” the Financial Times quoted a senior Saudi official as saying.
“And where countries have responded positively, we are organising flights, some of it we pay for to send them home, but we are not forcing people,” the official added.