RAWALPINDI: Some 30 Pakistani business professionals who were denied entry into Russia on suspicions of visa rule violations arrived at the Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIA) early on Friday on board Turkish Airlines flight TK-740.

The Russian authorities denied entry to 84 Pakistan business professionals, 49 of whom were from Rawalpindi.

Of these, 30 were sent back to BBIA, while 19 are still waiting in Istanbul Ataturk Airport.

According to the Federal Investigation Agency’s immigration department, the 30 Pakistanis who returned home on Friday were handed over by Turkish Airlines to the Pakistani authorities.

After looking over their documents, Pakistani authorities determined that their visas were genuine and that Russian immigration authorities had denied them entry without a reason.

The remaining 35 passengers who were denied entry were from Karachi and Lahore. They were also put on a flight back and have reached home.

All these passengers had been awarded a trip to Russia by a mobile phone distribution company for achieving their sales targets.

Most of them had travelled abroad before and had never been refused entry.

Malik Omer, one of the passengers who was sent back, said they could not get in touch with the relevant authorities in Pakistan when their immigration was being processed in Moscow, or when they were waiting for a connecting flight at the Ataturk Airport.

“We don’t even know where our luggage is,” he said.

The 30 passengers from Rawalpindi travelled to Moscow on March 23 from Islamabad on a Turkish Airlines flight via Istanbul. They were denied entry and flew home on the same flight.

“We landed in Moscow and the immigration officers took our passports and started counting the passengers. Half an hour later, we were sent back on the same flight without being given a reason,” Mr Omer said.

He said that they had valid Russian visas and return tickets, but were still treated like “criminals” in Moscow.

One of the Pakistanis waiting at Ataturk Airport, Rizwan Abbasi, told Dawn over the phone: “We are being treated like criminals. It is the federal government’s duty to make arrangements for us to be brought back to Pakistan.”

Mr Abbasi said no one from the Pakistani embassy had visited them to make sure they were not mistreated.

“We are not criminals and yet we are being treated like we are. We cannot sleep at night and some of us spend the night in chairs and others on the floor. And the Pakistani government isn’t doing anything about it,” he said.

The 19 Pakistanis stranded in Istanbul have to wait a long time to use the bathrooms and the food given to them is stale, Rizwan added.

Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2016