Stranded Saudi returnees, who have received their return tickets after several days of demonstrations, are now worried about getting their Covid-19 certificates in time.
A passenger arriving in Saudi Arabia must present a negative Covid-19 certificate obtained within 48 hours prior to their entry into the country.
However, the Saudi-bound Bangladeshi migrant workers whose flight was scheduled for midnight past Friday did not get their novel coronavirus certificates from the Mohakhali Corona Sample Collection Centre until 6pm.
Some 260 Bangladeshis were scheduled to leave for Saudi Arabia on Saudi Airlines' SV-602 flight last night. They were asked to go to the airport three to four hours before the flight, but they all were waiting for their Covid-19 certificates as of filing this report yesterday evening.
Arif Hossain, a Saudi-returnee migrant worker, told The Business Standard on Friday evening, "My flight is at 12 tonight but I have not got my Covid-19 certificate yet. Now I am going to the airport."
He said, "I came to Dhaka last Saturday. After queuing up for tickets in front of the airline's office for a few days, I got a ticket at 4pm on Thursday.
"But in order to go to Saudi Arabia you have to take a Covid-19 test 48 hours before arrival there.
"So, I rushed to the Mohakhali centre, where samples are collected from passengers bound for foreign countries, soon after I got the ticket. But there I was told that the time for sample collection was up for the day and that I would have to go there the next morning."
Arif said he along with his fellow passengers lined up for the testing on Friday morning. Then they gave their samples. But they did not get any certificate or message on their mobile phones regarding the test result until 6pm on the day.
They were extremely worried as they had been asked to report to the airport three to four hours before departure time.
The crowd of expatriates increased at the Corona Sample Collection Centre in Mohakhali on Friday as the Saudi authorities have made novel coronavirus testing compulsory for people travelling to that country.
The Saudi-bound passengers suffered in some other ways at the sample collection centre.
Sample collection at the DNCC Corona Sample Collection Centre remained suspended for two hours on Friday due to a power outage. After the service resumed, a record number of samples were collected on the day.
The centre has been operating under the joint supervision of the Armed Forces Division and the health directorate since July 20.
People concerned said on average 600-700 samples are collected at the centre but the number exceeded 1,000 on Friday due to the pressure of Saudi expatriates.
A staff member of the centre said, "Normally, samples are collected from 9am to 2pm. But, on Friday, samples were collected even after 2pm as load-shedding hampered the normal activities for hours."
Dr Shamir Chandra Saha, a doctor who works at the Mohakhali coronavirus sample collection centre, said, "The Saudi returnees will get their certificate before their departure.
"They came to us late. But we are aware of the urgency."
Meanwhile, many expatriates were seen waiting for tickets at the office of the Saudi Arabian Airlines in Kawran Bazar on Friday. The airline was handing out tickets to passengers according to their token serial.
Some expatriates, meanwhile, they had received their tokens but their turn would take several days.
Md Lokman, a Saudi-bound migrant worker from Bhola, told The Business Standard over phone, "I got a token on Monday, but I am yet to get my ticket.
"When I met Saudi airlines officials, they asked me to collect my ticket on October 2. Therefore, I am returning to my hometown as it is costly to stay in Dhaka."
Ticket seekers with tokens numbered 1-500 were given tickets on Thursday, while those with tokens numbered 501-850 got their tickets on Friday.
Passengers with tokens numbered 851-1200 will get their tickets on Saturday and those with tokens 1,201-1,500 will be given their tickets on Sunday.
Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen on Friday said all of the Saudi expatriates who have an iqama (work permit) and visa and have come to the country on holidays will be able to return to their workplaces without any complications.
The government has been maintaining contact with the Saudi Arabian authorities in this regard, he said while briefing the media after attending the inauguration ceremony of the newly-constructed complex of the Foreign Service Academy, Sugandha.
More than 100,000 returnee migrant workers have been stranded in the country amid the Covid-19 pandemic, after they came to enjoy their leave. Around 80% of them are Saudi expatriates.
Hundreds of these migrants demonstrated for air tickets in the last several days till Wednesday. They were anxious over the expiration of their visas.
Much to their relief, the Saudi government has extended the expiration dates of their iqamas and visas as per Bangladesh foreign ministry's request.