Hundreds of Pakistanis stranded in the UK left with uncertainty

April 03, 2020

Most of those who are stuck in the UK are students and visitors

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LONDON: Thousands of Pakistanis including tourists, business visitors, students, and vulnerable people are stuck in Britain after Pakistan closed its airspace on March 21.

All commercial flights have been cancelled while many airlines including Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) are not cooperating in issuing refunds but are offering flight credits to stuck passengers.

Most of those who are stuck in the UK are students and visitors. Hundreds of Pakistani students were able to leave for Pakistan through direct and indirect flights before Prime Minister Boris Johnson locked down Britain but hundreds of students were unable to leave.

Many stranded Pakistanis in the UK are hesitant to go back since they are afraid of the quarantine facilities in Pakistan after videos showing coronavirus patients tied up in a Lahore hospital became viral. The details of the hotel and quarantine facility along with the exact flight details are still not finalised which adds to the anxiety of Pakistani citizens in the UK.

"Most Pakistani students have left but many are still here because they are scared that they might catch the virus whilst flying and in the airports. We still don't know exactly what precautions Pakistan is taking to protect travellers from contracting the virus,” President of the Pakistan Society at the University of Huddersfield Aneesah Qadeer, told The News.

"Some students had already bought tickets from other airlines which are not being refunded. Now their parents are finding it difficult to send them money for a new ticket since their cash flow has been badly affected by the economic crisis caused by the pandemic. Some students are finding it difficult even to buy basic essentials like food. They look at Pakistan's High Commission in London for support."

Faisal Effendi, a law student at Coventry University who is presently staying with family in London said: "It is my humble request to the Pakistani government to restore all commercial flights for a minimum of one week because many students already booked tickets through different commercial airlines. It is unfair to buy a new ticket for special flights at high prices. The government should make a policy after considering all expected effects."

Ibrahim Nayyar, an undergraduate student at City, University of London said: "While I have expressed a strong desire to return to my family in the midst of this crisis, there is not much clarity but rather a lot of uncertainty regarding the special flights that happen to be the only ones available so far. Moreover, I don’t even know if the corona tests will be conducted after landing in Pakistan or whether we will be put in quarantine zones and monitored for a period of 14 days. Will that also apply if we already bring a certificate from the UK? I don’t even have the answer to that and being put in quarantine jeopardises my preparation for my exams in May."

Commenting on the situation, the press office of Pakistan High Commission London told The News: "The High Commissioner is constantly in touch with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) to discuss the situation of stranded Pakistanis.

"All Pakistanis in the UK should email us at supportphclondon.org."

The press officer for the High Commission further stated that they had received hundreds of requests from Pakistanis who wanted to go back.

"Special flights back to Pakistan fly go on April 7,8 and 9. Only PIA is allowed to fly in Pakistan so far. If anyone is facing financial difficulties, they can get in touch with us and we will help them as much as possible," the High Commission spokesperson said.

Some Pakistanis have suffered immense personal losses due to the closure of Pakistani airspace. Usama Khan from Oxford told The News: “My wedding is fixed in these Easter holidays but due to this pandemic I cannot fly to Pakistan. My family including my parents and brothers and sisters are all in Pakistan but I can’t fly now. So they are stuck in Pakistan and I am stuck here.”

Janice Khan from Sheffield, told The News, "My daughter is getting married in Pakistan, I am here with my family, we arranged everything but now my daughter can’t fly here because we are stuck.”

Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi had earlier announced 17 special flights to bring back stranded citizens from Canada and the UK but the details of all the flights have still not been finalised as it is expected that the demand for air travel will exceed the number of seats of available.

The Foreign Office Spokesperson, Aisha Farooqi said: "As this is a dynamic and evolving situation, these plans will be reviewed regularly."

It had also been decided that the Pakistanis coming from overseas would be tested for COVID-19 and would be kept in a hotel in Islamabad till the results come. Those who test positive for the virus would be taken to an unmentioned quarantine facility.



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