Capetonian waiting to be repatriated after months in Dubai: ‘There are people sleeping in parks and airports’

Rudi Lotter (Photos: Supplied/Rudi Lotter)
Rudi Lotter (Photos: Supplied/Rudi Lotter)

When this South African flew to Dubai in February for a work project he didn’t think he’d be there for months.

Rudi Lotter flew to Dubai in mid-February for work but after completing the project, the lockdown was announced in SA with no incoming or outgoing flights.

While seated at a restaurant, the 34-year-old filmmaker chats to YOU via Skype about his experience of life under lockdown in a foreign country and his repatriation struggles.

“I came up to Dubai in the middle of February and we worked on the project a bit,” Rudi tells us. “I mean obviously with Covid-19 we had to respect the government and we had to respect their decision, so we worked where we could.

Rudi Lotter (Photos: Supplied/Rudi Lotter)
Rudi Lotter (Photos: Supplied/Rudi Lotter)

“Luckily enough my job can be isolated. I can work in an office alone so that helped.”

But a month ago the project came to an end and now he’s been stranded in Dubai unable to return home because of the lockdown regulations at home and in the UAE.

His employers offered to pay for his stay at a hotel, but now that it’s almost a month extra into his stay, “these favours are going to come to an end soon. There’s only so far they can help you throughout.

“Luckily I’ve also had a few friends who said I can sleep at their house,” Rudi explains.

Life in Dubai

While residing in the Middle East’s commercial hub has been informative for Rudi, it’s also come at quite a price that’s left a dent in his pocket.

“Dubai is incredibly expensive. So spending an extra day here or an extra few days becomes quite expensive.  

“I could give you an example: if I had to order lunch – and I’m not talking about a fancy lunch – it’s generally about R400,” he explains, using the restaurant menu as an example.

A month ago Rudi reached out to the department of international relations and cooperation (DIRCO) to help get him repatriated back to SA.

“I approached them to put me on their list of trying to get repatriated and back then I was still fine [financially].

“I was a couple of weeks into my stay here but now it’s becoming difficult.

“DIRCO keeps saying they’ll arrange a flight but at no point are we being informed of how many other South Africans are here and how many of them need to get home.

“It’s just a breakdown in communication and I understand that they’re a small team trying to achieve amazing miracles but the lack of communication has really kind of stressed us all out,” he adds.

City life in Dubai (Photos: Supplied/Rudi Lotter)
City life in Dubai (Photos: Supplied/Rudi Lotter)
Rudi Lotter (Photos: Supplied/Rudi Lotter)
City life in Dubai (Photos: Supplied/Rudi Lotter)


While Rudi wants to return home, he also understands that there are many just like him.

“I wasn’t going to say I was desperate [to DIRCO] because there are actually desperate people out there.

“There are people sleeping in parks, people sleeping at airports – and I didn’t want to put myself above those people because they obviously need to get home first.”

While Rudi has the possibility of a repatriation flight on 18 June, everything is still up in the air.

“I think the scariest thing is a lack of information. I’ve got a possibility of a flight on the 18th. I’ve missed two flights already because I never made the list.

“At no point did DIRCO contact me and say, ‘We’re so sorry you haven’t made the list’ or, ‘This how the process works’, so we don’t know even this flight on the 18th . . . I have absolutely no idea if I’m on it,” he said.

Keeping sane under lockdown

Trying to stay rational while under lockdown in a foreign country and far away from home has come with plenty of challenges, Rudi says.

“Keeping sane is difficult because when you run out of things to do, you start to feel unhappy.”

Rudi revealed that he almost had a breakdown a few days ago.

“I’m an easy-going human being but about three or four days ago I almost had a complete collapse. I almost broke apart completely and I never thought I was capable of that,” he says.

“The whole morning I was just feeling so desperate and sad and then I all of a sudden remembered I was a creative and that my mission was to try to make people happy,” he said.

Rudi Lotter (Photos: Supplied/Rudi Lotter)
Rudi has been beating lockdown blues through music (Photos: Supplied/Rudi Lotter)

Speaking to YOU, Rudi’s mother, Juli, got candid about some of her fears of having her son in a foreign country amid a pandemic.

“Irrespective of the age of the child, a mom always thinks of a roof over your child’s head, food, safety and to have the means to survive no matter what,” she says.

“For me the biggest concern is that if anything untoward happened, he’d be alone with no family support.”

Juli has also made several attempts to reach out to the department and while awaiting response she’s found ways to support Rudi virtually.

“Sometimes we do Skype calls, just the two of us, and other times including his siblings, nephews and nieces. Comfort comes from the norm of family life and we’re close,” Juli says.

YOU reached out to DIRCO for comment regarding the matter and procedures in place about repatriation yet received no response.


Since the date of publish, Rudi successfully made the repatriation flight on 18 June and is in Johannesburg under quarantine before being reunited with his family.

(Photo: Supplied/Rudi Lotter)
Rudi captured this image after arriving in South Africa, while awaiting to collect his luggage at O.R Tambo in Johannesburg (Photo: Supplied/Rudi Lotter)

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