The Ministry of Health is investigating why 43 Ugandans who were
deported from Saudi Arabia on Wednesday were detained at Entebbe
International Airport for failing to pay for COVID-19 tests.
commenced mandatory COVID-19 testing for all arriving passengers last
Wednesday, a process that requires each arriving passenger to pay USD 30 or its equivalent of 110,000 Shillings. According to the Ministry of Health, deportees are exempted from the
But a group of deportees who landed at Entebbe International Airport aboard Ethiopian Airlines was held at the airport for failing to pay the charges. None of
them had a passport, but they were cleared through immigration using
their deportation orders and boarding passes.
of the 43 deportees, who said they did not have money on arrival at the
airport, told our reporter that they were only released after paying for the tests on Wednesday night. The trio either got
money from relatives or solicited from other passengers, while those who failed to get helped, spent the night at the airport.
of them, who spoke on condition of anonymity for personal security
reasons and fear of being stigmatized by relatives and friends, says
they were all however released by 5 am on Thursday without paying for the
tests. Passengers and some officials from Uganda Civil
Aviation Authority-UCAA confirm that the deportees were asked to pay for
The matter was equally raised by Mbarara
Woman MP Margaret Ayebare, during an oversight visit by the
parliamentary Health Committee to the airport on Thursday. Ayebare asked whether the government is
catering for travellers who might not have money for the tests.
//Cue in; "We cannot take...
Cue out...you are going."//
But Dr Atek Kagirita, the Deputy Incident Commander and the in-charge of the COVID-19 testing exercise at the airport, says that the government agencies involved in the planning and
implementation of the mandatory testing exercise had not considered students, returnees, deportees, and other passengers who might not afford
the cost of tests.
However, with an average of 30 deportees and inadmissible passengers arriving
every day, the government decided to exempt this group. He added that it was unfortunate
if medical workers and the army asked the deportees to pay for the tests.
"Deportees and Ugandans who are not admitted at their destinations are
exempted from paying for the tests," Kagirita says, adding that the matter is now under investigation.
Dr Kagirita explained that the government has tested 201 deportees and those
rejected at their destinations in one week. "They did not pay for the
tests," Kagirita adds, " But the Wednesday incident could have been peculiar because
they were many or there was an issue somewhere."
//Cue in; "At the moment...
Cue out...been in prison."//
He, however, says the exercise currently lacks an overall leader and yet it involves several entities. The exercise involves ministries of Health, Finance, Foreign Affairs and Internal Affairs, officials from the Civil Aviation Authority, the UPDF Engineering Brigade, NITA-U and Post Bank.
"So when I issue orders, the other stakeholders may not respond because they have different people to report to and also receive orders from. We need one person who can therefore command and coordinate this exercise so that we don't contradict each other and inconvenience passengers," he says.
says deportees and inadmissible passengers are handled by three
agencies, aviation security, immigration, and port health services. Each of the agencies countersigns the documents for deportees
and inadmissible passengers to prove that they are genuine people who
deserve to be exempted from paying for the COVID-19 tests.
//Cue in; "We have a file...
Cue out... have been deported."//
students and other passengers who say they do not have money, Kagirita
says they will have to raise money. "It's hard to prove whether or not
such people are telling the truth or are just stubborn and want to dodge
paying for the tests," Kagirita responded.