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British citizens livid over being stranded in Pakistan


LONDON: Thousand of British nationals stranded in Pakistan are angry at the UK government and Islamabad for leaving them with little to no support during the coronavirus crisis.

It is estimated that around 7,000 British-Pakistanis — mainly from Azad Kashmir and parts of Punjab — are in Pakistan and unable to leave due to the lockdown, left in a complete lurch by the lack of support and advice by both the governments.

The PIA has decided to operate 17 special flights to bring back nearly 2,000 Pakistanis from Canada, UK, Turkey, Kuala Lumpur, Baku, and Tashkent.

Addressing a press conference, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security Moeed Yusuf said the National Coordination Committee (NCC) was doing everything to support overseas Pakistanis.

Due to the closure of Pakistan's airspace and the cancellation of special flights for British citizens — who have been unable to go back to the UK — are now waiting for support from both governments as many are left without food and basic necessities due to the lockdown in Pakistan.

Among them are people with underlying health conditions who have run out of medicines and are desperately calling on government support to take them back to their country.

The sense of anger among British nationals stranded in Pakistan has multiplied as 262 German and European nationals departed Islamabad International Airport on a chartered Qatar Airways flight on Monday.

German Ambassador to Pakistan Bernhard Schlagheck wrote on Twitter: "Seeing off last passengers before boarding! 1st flight bringing home Germans stranded in Pakistan left Islamabad this morning.

"More than 260 German & European citizens are on board. Glad to help them return back home. Thanks to Pakistani authorities for excellent cooperation."

On the other hand, the Canadian High Commission has also arranged special flights from Karachi and Lahore on April 2, writing on Twitter: "Special flights for Canadians, PR & immediate family available for purchase to Canada on Thursday April 2 from Lahore and Karachi to Toronto.

"Pls check ROCA message for details. Complete your form by noon Tues March 31 to express interest."

Faisal Aman from Tooting, currently stuck in Pakistan with his daughter, wrote on Twitter: "We Brits are stranded in Pakistan from last 10 days, airports are closed without any notice period. My daughter is heart patient and her medication is finishing.

"Need urgent action, all other airlines are booking and cancelling the flight, robbing us.”

Suhaiymah Manzoor Khan, a famous British poetess who was also stuck in Pakistan is now coordinating with British citizens in Pakistan and trying to help them get back to the UK. She has received more than five hundred emails from the Britons who had their flights cancelled between March 21 and April 4.

Speaking exclusively to The News, she said :"Over the past week, I am now in contact with over a thousand people who have had their flights cancelled. Lots of them have health issues or are separated from their families. They are anxious to get home. I am trying to lobby the British High Commission to help those Brits especially those who are high risk."

"I am calling for urgent repatriation charter flights for the most vulnerable people stuck in Pakistan."

Another Twitter user, Naz Elahi wrote: "What about those British people stranded in Pakistan while airlines are ripping off consumers it’s disgusting.

"My father has Health problems is stuck there why ? I understand not letting anyone in but not sending people home is shambles you all should be ashamed.”

Hira Sadiq of Plaistow has been trapped in Karachi since March 23 when her flight was cancelled and airports closed in the port city. "I have tried more than 50 times to get in touch with the British High Commission in Islamabad for help, but I am yet to receive a reply," the 36-year-old said.

"This is very worrying for me and my young kids."

Another twitter user Waz Malik wrote: "Been ringing for last week and a half and holding on for hours, today for 6 hours and cut off again, have been ringing @omanair and @mytrip non stop worried for family stranded in Pakistan @foreignoffice due back in days, what’s happening with the flights? Can someone help."

In a video message released on Tuesday, British High Commissioner to Pakistan Dr Christian Turner said authorities were doing "everything" to facilitate UK citizens’ return.

"We are doing everything we can to help support you to return home. That is my and my team’s single priority. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work going on with the government of Pakistan and airlines to deliver that," he said.

In a video message, the High Commissioner asked people to contact them via direct messaging on Twitter but several hundred have reported that they cannot access that and slammed the commission's measures in this difficult time.

The sense of discrimination grows as other governments have rescued their citizens from other countries with even the British government rescuing stranded citizens from China and Peru.

A Twitter user, Bushra wrote: "Twitter will not allow DM. Please provide information on how people like myself as many others on this thread can send you our details for assistance and support for our loved ones stranded in Pakistan.

"We all are getting extremely worried”.

The UK has committed £75 million to help Britons stranded abroad by chartering rescue flights when there are no other routes available.

At the daily Downing Street briefing on COVID-19, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the new plan will help tens of thousands of travellers.

Raab said priority will be given to the most vulnerable including the elderly or those with pressing medical needs and also to countries where there are large numbers of British tourists trying to return to the UK.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) was approached for a comment but no reply was provided.