Travelers stranded during a pandemic become prime targets for extortion and the victims of unethical business practices. We are in a pandemic and nothing about what is happening in the year 2020 follows normal expectations, procedures and standards. When Donald Trump Jnr, the United States President pushed a protectionist agenda, no one imagined that a miniscule virus with a crown would cripple economies, cause countries to close air, land, and sea borders and force citizens to accept wearing masks and gloves as the new norm. By default, countries are protecting their border by building and buying from within their borders and using domestic tourism to help stabilize their economies and wellbeing.
My name is Maryam and I am a Nigerian. I am a 63 years old woman who has been stuck in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) because of COVID-19 since April 4th, 2020. I initially had a confirmed return flight on Air Peace, a Nigerian owned airline to return to Nigeria from Sharjah International Airport, UAE. Unfortunately, since March 21 the two main international airports in Lagos and Abuja, Nigeria have been closed. The Federal Government of Nigeria closed its land, air and water borders to slow the spread of Covid-19. I say slow because as of this published date there are 37, 801 active cases in Nigeria with 15,677 recovered and 805 fatalities.
By the grace of Our Creator, I have been patiently waiting for my country’s borders to be open for international air travel for Nigerians like myself that are desperate to come home to be able to return. However as of July 17, the airline that I was scheduled to return to Nigeria on was in the process of extorting money from me in the amount of #301, 860 under the pretense of emergency evacuation for a flight to go home. Additionally, if I insist on a refund on my unused return ticket then I would lose 25% of the initial cost as cancellation fees. My theory is if you can land on Nigerian soil under the guise as emergency evacuation, you can honor your commitment to me as a customer and provide the service I already paid for, which is to return home to Nigeria.
These are unprecedented times, and no one anticipated a pandemic. A pandemic is defined as a disease that is prevalent over a whole country or in this case worldwide. The results of this pandemic have seen disruptions in business, education, and economies that in most countries are struggling to survive. With my limited income it is grossly unethical and egregious to expect human beings to choose between buying food, surviving in a foreign country versus having to buy again a plane ticket that is classified as emergency evacuation. If the plane can land on Nigerian soil, honor my return ticket for me to go home to Nigeria.
My stay in the UAE has expired since April 4th, 2020. However, United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been a very generous and understanding host country that immediately stopped their overstay fees on expired visit visas once countries around the world started closing their borders. However as of July 12, 2020, visitors are now being told they have until August 11th, 2020, to leave UAE or risk overstay fines. We can extend our stay for another 30 days after August 11 as a courtesy. I truly appreciate the gestures from the leaders of the UAE and what they have done for their citizens, residents and visitors in these turbulent times. Now I am asking my leaders of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Giant of Africa and its business leaders to follow the examples set by the UAE and make it possible for me to come home without extorting me or unduly making more fragile my mental state.
In times like these businesses need to stop profiting off the distress of others and come together to help those in crisis. I am in a crisis and shouldn’t be left in anguish as I cope as a traveler during a pandemic.
Writing for My Fellow Nigerians who are stuck in foreign countries.
Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
By: Ayesha Rushdan