At least 550 Pakistani pilgrims stranded at Doha Airport after a diplomatic rift between Qatar and six other countries were evacuated and flown to Muscat on Tuesday, Pakistani embassy officials told DawnNews.
The pilgrims, who were travelling to Saudi Arabia for Umrah via Qatar, were stranded in Doha after several countries including Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, Egypt, Maldives, Yemen and the eastern Libyan government cut diplomatic ties with Qatar.
All the nations announced plans to cut air and sea traffic to Qatar, which it called 'unjustified'.
Sadia Khurram, an official of the Pakistani embassy in Qatar, told DawnNews that initial arrangements to transport Pakistanis stranded at Doha airport to Saudi Arabia were made by Qatar Airways, and that Oman Air was used for the operation.
In first phase, 400 Pakistanis were transported to Muscat through a special flight at 7:00am on Tuesday, whereas the remaining 150 passengers were also transported to Muscat via Oman Air at 2:30pm, from where the pilgrims are to be sent to Saudi Arabia.
Khurram said that the Pakistani mission in Doha was in touch with embassies in Oman and Saudi Arabia, whereas Pakistan embassy staff were also present at Muscat International Airport to facilitate passengers upon arrival.
The embassy official advised Pakistani citizens to avoid travelling to Saudi Arabia through Qatar Airways, or on any flights from Qatar, keeping in view the volatile situation between Qatar and the three other Gulf countries.
PIA seeks to help stranded passengers
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is in talks to bring back Pakistani pilgrims stranded in Doha, an official said.
“There are two options for PIA. Either take them from Doha to Jeddah, and for that we will be needing Saudi government permission. Or the second is to bring them back to Pakistan and take them to Saudi Arabia,” Mashhood Tajwar, spokesman for the national carrier, told Reuters.
Tajwar said the number of stranded Pakistani passengers was not clear because they were customers of Qatar Airways, but PIA was in contact with the Pakistani embassy in Doha to get details.
Qatar is home to global airline Qatar Airways and many airports in the Gulf region are major hubs for international connecting flights. Qatar's main Hamad International Airport, for example, served about 9.8 million passengers from January to March, according to its website.