x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Drivers relieved as lorry chaos appears over

The passage of lorries across the Saudi-UAE border at Al Ghuwaifat returned to normal yesterday.

Lorry drivers Ibrahim Haider,left, and Naher Mohammed wait at the Saudi-UAE border in Al Ghuwaifat yesterday.
Lorry drivers Ibrahim Haider,left, and Naher Mohammed wait at the Saudi-UAE border in Al Ghuwaifat yesterday.

AL GHUWAIFAT // The passage of lorries across the Saudi-UAE border at Al Ghuwaifat returned to normal yesterday as Saudi authorities continued to allow more vehicles to go through. A meeting between UAE and Saudi officials on Monday appears to have been instrumental in removing the bottleneck that had resulted in queues stretching more than 32 km along the E11 highway last weekend.

"Around 1,500 trucks moved across the border after the meeting," said Major Saeed al Afari, the deputy director at the Ghuwaifat border. "I hope they continue this so that we can keep moving the drivers. I hope the major traffic won't happen again." The highway remained clear yesterday, with the odd rubbish bag the only evidence of the thousands of drivers who had been stuck for days. Although approximately 3,000 lorries remain queued in five holding lots and along a 5km stretch between the two border posts, drivers expressed relief that the situation appeared to have been resolved.

Ibrahim Haider, a 24-year-old Syrian transporting building material from Dubai to Qatar, found himself yesterday in the first parking lot waiting to go through Emirati immigration, which he expected to be a quick process but followed by a longer wait to get to the Saudi side. "It is a bit better than it was, but I still think I will be waiting for another three days to enter Saudi," he said, standing in the shade of a friend's lorry out of the blazing midday sun. "We still have to wait, just not so long."

Naher Mohammed, from the Syrian city of Aleppo who was transporting ceramic tiles from Dubai to Bahrain, nodded in agreement. "It is the first time I have seen it like that, but it is better now than it was two days before," he said. "It will probably take us three days to cross the five kilometres into Saudi Arabia." During a meeting in Riyadh on Monday, Mohammed Khalifa al Muhairi, the director of the Federal Customs Authority, said he had asked Saudi officials to improve procedures at the crossing.

Some drivers attributed the congestion, which started around two weeks ago, to new procedures introduced on the Saudi side. New fingerprinting and other identification techniques were being used, slowing down the process, they said. Others blamed what they said was limited staff at the Saudi border. The delays, they said, had been getting worse for months. After Monday's meeting, Mr al Muhairi said he expected custom procedures to be "made easier".

During the standstill, dozens of men were transported to hospitals or treated for heat-related conditions at the scene. Medical staff in the area said they had also responded to cases where pre-existing medical conditions were exacerbated by the harsh weather, in which temperatures soared to 50°C. The UAE Red Crescent Authority continued yesterday to hand out food and water to drivers, but Sultan al Shehi, one of the co-ordinators of the response effort, said they were winding up their operations. The RCA said it had distributed around 40,000 food packages over the past 10 days.

zconstantine@thenational.ae