Over 5,000 Pakistanis have been repatriated according to the foreign ministry
Over the past few weeks, Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi have repeatedly stated that bringing home Pakistanis stranded in various parts of the world is one of the top priorities of the government.
So what is the government doing about it?
In a short online address, Qureshi said that the government was making all-out efforts to deal with a rapidly evolving situation which was a challenge, not only for Pakistan but the whole world.
To monitor the overall evolving situation and coordinate with Pakistani Missions abroad and repatriate Pakistani nationals, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established a Crisis Management Unit (CMU).
The website of the unit shares details of flight operations, Pakistani missions abroad, hotline numbers to connect to the missions and names of the focal persons designated to facilitate Pakistani citizens.
The government has also issued criteria for selection of stranded passengers which is available on the government-run website (covid.gov.pk) – these include Pakistanis stranded on foreign airports, labour laid off or suspended by host country, prisoners, zaireen, those bereaved due to death of a kin, government servants on official visits, those with expired visas and Pakistanis in locations from where special flights to Pakistan may originate.
“Proactive, comprehensive and coordinated steps continue to be taken to curtail the spread of Covid-19, with a view to ensure safety and security of our citizens and people travelling to and from Pakistan,” Qureshi stated adding that standard operating procedures (SOPs) had been developed and all safety protocols were being followed for passengers.
According to the SOPs, upon arrival in Pakistan, all passengers and crew are subjected to a minimum of 48-hour state-monitored quarantine. The quarantine can be extended based on the result of a passenger’s Covid-19 test. Those who test negative are advised self-isolation for a 14-day period.
“We are increasing out testing capacity. As soon as it is adequate, we will start bringing passengers back. We have to ensure provision of quarantine and other medical facilities for coronavirus positive people at airports,” Qureshi said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has stated that approximately 43,000 Pakistanis are stranded in various countries and a comprehensive and phased repatriation plan is under way to bring them back safely.
Responding to The News on Sunday, the ministry said that as of April 20, more than 5,000 Pakistanis had been brought home either through PIA’s special flight operations or through partner airlines of PIA. In the first phase, from March 21 to April 14, 1,640 Pakistani citizens were repatriated from the UAE, Qatar, Thailand, Turkey, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, Iraq, Malaysia, United Kingdom and Canada.
Based on the experience in the first phase, flight operations were expanded in the second phase that commenced on April 14 and in which 3,536 citizens from the UAE, Japan, Thailand, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Indonesia were brought home. Another 81 citizens were separately repatriated from South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, and Mozambique via a special chartered flight. In addition to this, 559 Pakistanis were repatriated through land borders from Afghanistan and India.
The third phase of repatriation started on April 20 and will continue till April 28, bringing back over 6,000 Pakistanis stranded in various parts of the world.
The ministry says that the flight operations have been designed keeping in view the difficulties being faced by Pakistanis stranded abroad as well as the testing and quarantine facilities available in Pakistan.
“Two young officers from Pakistan Mission in Beijing volunteered to be deputed in the quarantined zone in Wuhan, to look after the needs of Pakistani students residing there,” the Foreign Office has announced adding that missions have also engaged with host authorities for extension in expired visas, provision of food, medicines, clothing, accommodation and travel expenses for Pakistani citizens on need basis.
In a recent weekly press briefing Aisha Farooqui, the spokesperson for the foreign ministry, said that relief and assistance was being provided to overseas Pakistanis stranded across the world. She said that food rations were being supplied by all missions to Pakistanis facing hardships due to the prevailing pandemic situation.
The writer is a reporter for The News in Islamabad.