By Ben Garcia

KUWAIT: Kuwait International Airport will reopen from August 1, and many residents stranded in various countries around the world are expected to return. But there are many challenges ahead for some of those stuck in Dubai. Kuwait has implemented a no-vaccine-no entry policy for those who are returning, requiring all residents to be fully vaccinated with jabs recognized by Kuwait - namely Pfizer-BioNTech, Oxford-AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna.

Just before the rollout of vaccines in December last year, residents from certain countries had to spend 14 days in a third country before arriving to Kuwait, so many residents chose Dubai as their quarantine destination. But months after the implementation of this third-country quarantine rule, Kuwait cancelled the order, leaving hundreds if not thousands of Kuwait-based workers stranded in the Emirates.

One of them is Benjie Andales Coyus, who has been in the UAE for the last six months. "I came here on January 16, 2021, and my ticket to Kuwait was booked for February 10. But on February 7, Kuwait implemented a lockdown, so from then on I am anxiously waiting for any good news about the border reopening," he said. Coyus left his hotel in Dubai after spending more than two months there and moved in with a friend to save money.

"Here I am also paying for the small room, equivalent to KD 62. This amount is sent by my brother, who is also working abroad. If not for him, I couldn't survive in Dubai," he said. "My friend here is sharing food with me and sometimes some of his friends also share something. This is how I managed to survive in Dubai over the past six months."

Coyus has four children in the Philippines who depend on his remittances, and according to him, they have waited long enough. "During the past six months, I sent nothing to my family. Thank God, they managed to live mostly due to the help of many people around them and by borrowing money from our relatives. If there's nothing to eat, they eat rice and salt. That is why I value my stay here and am praying to God that one day I will be able to return to Kuwait," he said.

"I hope the Philippine government does something for us. What we need is a vaccine. The UAE doesn't want to vaccinate us because we are visitors. We already informed the embassy here about our situation and their solution is for us to go back home. My visa is about to expire, and I want to start working again. I hope the UAE government will reconsider our status and administer us with the vaccine needed to re-enter Kuwait," Coyus pleaded. He said there are hundreds of Kuwait-based workers stranded in the UAE, while some have already gone back home.

Students stranded

Grace Martinez, a Filipina who is married to an Egyptian, said her two sons are stranded in Dubai since Jan 25. "My two sons, Rashid (23 years old) and Raed (21 years old) with their friend Jasmine are stranded in Dubai for the last six months. They are students in the Philippines and frequently visit us every six months so that their visa doesn't expire. But the pandemic has separated us for almost two years now," she lamented.

"When third-country quarantine was allowed, we immediately booked them tickets to Dubai. But they were caught with the new flight ban in Kuwait. They eagerly want to be home with us here in Kuwait," Martinez said. She said they were happy to hear about the reopening of the airport to foreigners, but the new rules only apply to those who are fully vaccinated.

"Our excitement was cut short when Kuwait announced only those who are fully vaccinated are allowed to come. How can they enter Kuwait when they are not vaccinated, let alone the fact that they are temporary visitors to the UAE? They are not residents of that country, so it's hard to get the vaccine," she said.

"I hope Kuwait will reconsider its decision for us. Maybe they can allow our kids to undergo quarantine - we are more than willing to abide by their policies of quarantine. If they allow domestic helpers to do this, I hope they consider those who have already undergone six months of quarantine in other countries. Please have mercy on us - we need help, we need intervention, we need understanding for our predicament which we have endured for the past six months," she cried.