The Ministry has been approached by several Emaswati living and studying in the United States of America, where it is universal knowledge that the COVID-19 Pandemic has spread exponentially, resulting in extraordinary and widespread fatalities, not to mention untold distress and general despair in communities across that nation. Emaswati have therefore requested the assistance of His Majesty’s government to return home while the situation stabilizes and institutions of higher learning re-open to admit students registered to complete their academic programmes .
Fortunately, despite the global decline of nearly 70 percent in air traffic, Ethiopian Airways, a recognized and reputable African Airline, is still operating flights from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom into Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Students have therefore been advised to purchase airtickets on Ethiopian Airlines to Addis Ababa. However, given the stringent lockdown conditions imposed by the neighbouring Republics of South Africa and Mozambique on their airpspace and land borders, commercial travel to the Kingdom is prohibited.
Government in taking due consideration of all these factors, has arranged an aircraft to collect these students from Addis Ababa to King Mswati III International Airport on the 25th April 2020, where the students, upon arrival, will be tested and quarantined in line with prevailing government regulations.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation has, over the past two months, undertaken a comprehensive exercise to register all Emaswati in the diaspora and in particular, students in institutions of higher learning without independent means of survival and who may be vulnerable at this difficult time.
At present the register stands at just over 700 students across the globe who have self-registered, or who have been registered by a next of kin here in Eswatini. The missions abroad have been tasked to keep in touch with these students in their respective countries of accreditation, to monitor developing administrative and immigration issues in each case, and assist these students where at all possible. Some of these students, particularly in the SACU group of States, have also indicated a desire to return back home, for various reasons.
However, given the strict protocols that have been imposed by the South African Government on cross border travel, assigning permission only for urgent medical attention and essential nutritional and medicinal purposes, the Ministry has hitherto been unsuccessful in submitting individual applications for waivers to the lockdown regulations.
The Ministry, however, remains committed to engaging the South African Government at an administrative and humanitarian level to ensure that Emaswati that find themselves in difficult and untenable living situations in South Africa, are able to urgently and safely return home. In this regard, the High Commission of Eswatini in Pretoria has commenced registration of Emaswati in urgent need of repatriation, as a first step to fulfilling the requirements of the South African National Joint Committee for a compliant and regularized repatriation.
The Ministry remains seized with developments on the prevailing lockdown regulations in the Republic of South Africa, which invariably affect the ability of the Ministry to assist with facilitation of authorization of repatriations from countries such as Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Uganda and Tanzania, where the country has registered a considerable number of students, but which must, by geographical necessity, come through the borders of South Africa.