Pakistanis outside consulate
More than 25,000 Pakistanis have registered with their diplomatic missions in the UAE demanding to go back home after the flights were suspended due to coronavirus pandemic.. Image Credit:

Dubai: A lack of quarantine and testing facilities back home is hampering the repatriation of thousands of stranded Pakistanis from the UAE, says a top diplomate.

Pakistan Ambassador to the UAE Ghulam Dastgir said that more than 25,000 Pakistanis who are stranded in the UAE have already registered with their diplomatic missions in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. “It is not an easy task to repatriate all of them during the current circumstances when the flights are closed and the country is under lockdown,” he told Gulf News while answering a question about why Pakistan government is not evacuating its stranded citizens from the UAE.

He said that repatriation process may start anytime soon but he cannot give any date as the situation is changing every day.

Ambassador explained that both the UAE and Pakistan governments are working together on this issue. “I am also putting pressure on my government to expedite the process while at the same time I am in touch with the UAE authorities concerned to sort out the issue. The UAE government is ready to repatriate Pakistanis but the various departments including the Health authorities back home are not ready to receive such a large number of people from abroad due to lack of quarantine facilities and lockdown in the country.”

I am also putting pressure on my government to expedite the process while at the same time I am also in touch with the UAE authorities concerned to sort out the issue.

- Pakistan Ambassador Ghulam Dastgir

Currently, he said quarantine facility is available only at the Islamabad Airport for around 200 people while none of the other airports has this facility. “Coronavirus protocol requires every passenger to spend at least 14 days in quarantine and currently the government is working on the plan to increase the capacity.” he said. Suspension of regular flight operation has already been extended till April 21 as part of measures to combat coronavirus in the country.

Protest outside the consualte

Last week, hundreds of stranded Pakistanis gathered outside the Pakistan Consulate General in Dubai and the Embassy in Abu Dhabi demanding the diplomats send them back home. Desperate people even chanted slogans against the Imran Khan government for not evacuating them on special flights. Pakistan Consul General Ahmed Amjad Ali had to come out of the chancery to address the crowd using the police megaphone to pacify the angry crowd.

Coordination

The Ambassador Dastgir reiterated that top officials from both the countries are working together to come up with the best possible plan to repatriate Pakistanis from the UAE at the earliest. “We are thankful to the UAE government for hosting our people with care in this difficult time,” he added.

Who are the stranded people?

Most of the stranded people who desperately want to go back home include people on visit visas, those who have lost their jobs or are going on paid or unpaid leave and those who have cancelled their work visas. There are also some people who want to send their families back home.

When asked why Pakistan International Airline (PIA) is operating special flights to evacuate people from certain countries, Ambassador said that the number of stranded people in those countries are very less while in the UAE the number is huge.

Meanwhile, taking notice of the situation, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi urged provinces to step forward to improve coronavirus testing and quarantine measures so that the repatriation of Pakistani citizens is expedited amid the pandemic.

Foreign Minister's strategy

Chairing a meeting at the Pakistan Foreign Office on Saturday morning, Qureshi said that the federal government was making all possible efforts to bring back home the citizens stranded in different parts of the world due to the spread of the novel coronavirus.

“A strategy to bring them back to Pakistan is in the process of being finalised as our envoys in different countries are in constant touch with our stranded citizens,” he said.

Shah Mahmood Qureshi

Message for overseas Pakistanis

In a video message addressed to the overseas Pakistanis, Qureshi also urged the provincial governments to support the foreign ministry’s efforts to bring back the stranded Pakistanis.

“Due to non-cooperation of the provinces, the return of the stranded Pakistanis is delayed. They should cooperate for better results. It is my strongest appeal to the provincial governments to cooperate with the Foreign Office and the federal government in best national interest and rise above their political differences in this hour,” Qureshi said.

He said on April 10 around 1,600 Pakistanis stranded abroad had returned home while efforts were on to bring back 36,000 to 40,000 expatriates from different countries.

Foreign Minister Qureshi said the government took a tough decision to suspend flight operations because a large number of Pakistanis got stranded at the airports of Dubai, Doha, Istanbul, Tashkent, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur in addition to other tourists, students, religious groups from Pakistan.