KARACHI: The first flight dispatched to Yemen to facilitate the evacuation of Pakistanis stranded in the Middle Eastern conflict zone landed at Karachi airport Sunday night, with around 500 Pakistani nationals on board.
The arriving citizens were warmly welcomed by their families, political leaders and social activists.
Around 326 evacuees, who had arrived from Yemen, reached Islamabad early on Monday in a subsequent flight. The passengers were welcomed by a PML-N delegation as they disembarked from the aircraft.
Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed talking to media-persons said that, “All citizens had been praying for the return of those Pakistanis who were stranded in Yemen. The efforts and hard work of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif enabled the return of the stranded citizens.”
He added that the premier maintained close coordination with the pilot of the aircraft which brought back the stranded Pakistanis from Yemen.
Earlier, Pakistan Ambassador to Yemen Irfan Yousuf who accompanied the stranded countrymen on the flight, talking to a private TV channel, said, “I have done my job”.
He said 496 Pakistanis are evacuated in the first batch. They included 116 children. He added that he will continue to help in the evacuation operation from the federal capital.
A PIA crew member told the media that some 500 passengers have been brought back onboard the flight. He said a PIA flight will take over 350 of these passengers belonging to other parts of the country to Islamabad.
Earlier, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif directed Senior Vice President Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N) Sindh Chapter Shah Muhammad Shah and MPA Humayun Khan to receive the arriving families at the Karachi airport.
Similarly the prime minister also directed Minister for Information, Broadcasting and National Heritage Senator Pervaiz Rasheed and Member National Assembly Tariq Fazal Chaudhry to receive the evacuated Pakistanis from Yemen at the Islamabad airport tonight on his behalf.
A Boeing-747 jumbo jet of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) was sent to Al-Hudaydah airport after being given clearance by Saudi aviation authorities. The flight was expected to evacuate 504 stranded Pakistanis.
A convoy of 600 Pakistanis had reached Al-Hudaydah Sunday after escaping from the embattled Yemeni capital Sanaa to leave for Pakistan. The convoy was inspected heavily by the Yemeni armed forces and the Houthi militia before it was permitted to exit Sanaa.
Pakistan's ambassador to Yemen Dr Irfan Shami had said earlier that 482 Pakistanis will be evacuated on the first flight. He maintained that around 1,000 Pakistanis will be evacuated and sent to Pakistan in a span of two days. Women and children will be transported first, the ambassador said.
“On seeing the plane landing, stranded Pakistanis expressed their happiness by clapping,” he said.
Pakistani Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said late Saturday that around 3,000 Pakistanis lived in Yemen, with some 1,000 trying to leave the country.
The convoy of Pakistanis, which includes women and children, was to stay in a school in Al-Hudaydah until their departure for Pakistan.
According to the spokesman of the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the flight operations will be continued until all Pakistanis are evacuated from Yemen.
The crew was given brief training on tackling conflict zones before their departure.
A frigate belonging to Pakistan Navy left for the Gulf of Aden on the coast of Yemen Sunday from a seaport in Karachi to rescue the stranded Pakistanis from the war-torn country.
The fully-equipped ship will provide its services to aid the evacuation process.
According to spokesman CAA, another PIA airplane, an Airbus-310, will also be used in the evacuation operation.
Former ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman, however, was critical of the government's handling of the evacuation of Pakistanis in Yemen.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on Friday had ordered the Pakistani mission in Yemen to take steps for the immediate evacuation of stranded Pakistani families in the troubled country.
Upon directions of the prime minister, a comprehensive plan was devised for the evacuation of the stranded Pakistanis.
The prime minister was personally monitoring the evacuation and had directed the officials to ensure safe return of every citizen, his spokesperson added.
A Crisis Management Cell has been established at the Foreign Office to coordinate the arrangements for evacuation.
Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies launched military operations including air strikes in Yemen on Thursday, Saudi officials said, to counter Iran-backed Houthi forces besieging the southern city of Aden, where the US-supported Yemeni president had taken refuge.
Saudi military spokesman Brigadier General Ahmed Asseri said operations around the Red Sea port of Hudaydah stopped for more than two hours on Sunday to allow the Pakistani evacuation.
“Around 500 Pakistani nationals were evacuated on Pakistani planes after the coalition forces provided a safe passage for them,” Asseri told a news conference in Riyadh. “They were evacuated and arrived back in their country.”
Their departure came a day after Saudi Arabia evacuated dozens of diplomats from Yemen and the United Nations pulled out international staff from the Yemeni capital Sanaa.
A Chinese vessel also docked in the southern Yemeni port of Aden on Sunday to transport Chinese diplomats, medical staff and technicians, a port source said.
India also said Sunday it was preparing to airlift stranded citizens from war-torn Yemen despite the bombing of the country's main international airport.
Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said air evacuations would take place from Yemen, which has been plunged into chaos by a Houthi rebellion that has triggered Saudi-backed airstrikes on the capital Sanaa.
Some 4,100 Indians are currently in Yemen, including 3,100 in Sanaa, 500 in Aden and the rest around the country, the minister said.
Houthi advance has raised Saudi fears the Shia minority fighters would seize control of the whole of its Sunni-majority neighbour and take it into the orbit of regional rival Iran.
Yemen has been gripped by growing turmoil since the Houthis launched a power takeover in Sanaa in February.