Consulate rush
Hundreds of stranded Pakistanis regularly gather outside the Pakistan Consulate General in Dubai, demanding repatriation. Image Credit: Clint Egbert /Gulf News

Dubai: Stranded Pakistanis in the UAE are furious over non-availability of repatriation flights and lack of information despite their government’s announcement to reopen Pakistan's airspace for all airlines.

Following the announcement, overseas Pakistanis rushed to book tickets for regular flights. However, unfortunately, they could not book tickets as no airline, not even Pakistan Interational Airline (PIA), had reopened online reservations.

Expatriates complain

Some Pakistani expatriates in the UAE told Gulf News that they were unable to make any flight bookings to fly back home. “Travel agents are asking for more money, while the PIA offices are not entertaining our requests. Flights are also not open for online booking despite the assurance from the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis. Also, Pakistan Consulate General in Dubai has no idea about the new flight schedule,” they said.

Contrary to the Pakistan government's earlier announcement, the Consul General of Pakistan in Dubai, Ahmed Amjad Ali, in a video message on Sunday, said the consulate would continue to coordinate repatriation flights until June 27.

He said the PIA has increased its fare from Dh1,120 to Dh1,470 for flights from Dubai to Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad and Peshawar, while the fare for a ticket from Dubai to Karachi has been raised from Dh850 to Dh1,270. He said that the consulate staff would call the passengers who had registered with the consulate for the purchase of tickets.

Who to believe

"I do not know what to do. I do not believe anymore whatever our leaders, including Prime Minister Imran Khan and Zulfiqar Bukhari, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister for Overseas Pakistanis, say on television and social media regarding regular flights," said Rahim Khan who has been trying to go back home for the last three months. Similar complaints were also received by Gulf News from a number of other stranded Pakistanis.

Repeated calls to PIA offices in Dubai and Abu Dhabi went unanswered, while the mobile phones of PIA managers in Dubai and Abu Dhabi were switched off.

Hundred repatriation flights

Earlier on Saturday, PIA announced it would operate more than 100 flights from UAE and Saudi Arabia to repatriate stranded Pakistanis.

As Pakistan announced the reopening of its airspace for all airlines, with 25 per cent capacity, from Saturday, national carrier PIA said it would increase the number of regular flights to and from Pakistan, with priority to the Gulf countries -- including UAE and Saudi Arabia -- to repatriate the huge number of Pakistanis stranded for months.

The airline decided to operate more than 100 flights to bring back at least 15,000 Pakistanis from UAE and around 10,000 from Saudi Arabia in one week, starting June 21. Around 21,000 stranded Pakistanis have been repatriated from the UAE during the last three months, while more than 60,000 are still waiting to return home.

Foreign airlines

Foreign airlines have also not yet announced their flight schedule to Pakistan as they are still awaiting permission from the Pakistan government.

PM Khan had also tweeted that the government was opening up its airspace for international flights to help overseas Pakistanis, who had suffered the most during the COVID-19 pandemic, return home.

“Tomorrow (June 21), we will partially open the airspace for international flights. This is being done especially to help our overseas workers who have suffered the most in this pandemic, but have shown great courage and made us proud. We welcome you back home and our government will facilitate you in every way,” Imran had tweeted on Saturday.

CAA notofication

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had issued a notification about the resumption of international flights from Pakistan, as the Notice to Airmen (Notam) said that all international passengers and chartered flights will be authorised to operate to and from all airports in Pakistan, except Gwadar and Turbat.

The aviation authority will approve the scheduling of flights in order to ensure sufficient separation between arrivals and departures of passengers under health protocols adopted to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

PIA spokesperson's claim

PIA spokesperson Abdullah Hafeez said on Saturday that additional flights had been scheduled in view of the rush for tickets and limited availability. He claimed that tickets could be purchased through the airline’s website or its booking offices in Pakistan and through travel agents.

Nevertheless, no flight tickets were available on the PIA’s website for travel from UAE to Pakistan.