A group of nearly 150 Pakistani nationals stuck at an airport in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang for the past four days amidst the coronavirus outbreak have appealed to the government in Islamabad to evacuate them back home.
The Pakistani citizens, most of whom are students and their families with the rest being traders, have been trapped at the airport in Ürümqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, for several days as the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak spreading in China rose to 213 and the World Health Organisation called it a global health emergency.
They can neither leave the airport because many of them have reached the expiry of their visas, nor can they fly home due to Pakistan's suspension of its flights to and from China in the wake of the outbreak.
Tariq Rauf, a PhD scholar from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa's Shangla district who was studying in China, in a video message sent to Dawn said that members of the Pakistani community were stuck in Ürümqi because their onward flight to Pakistan had been cancelled.
Accompanied by other Pakistani nationals and children in the video, Rauf said the visas of many of them had expired and they were told to remain inside the airport.
"For how long will we stay here?" he questioned, adding that many people were running out of money to spend. Rauf told Dawn the Pakistani nationals were having to fend for themselves while at the airport, sleeping on benches and purchasing food using their own money.
Rauf said the Pakistani students were returning home after completing their degrees and they could not return to their universities because of the expiry of their visas and because they had handed over their accommodations to the varsities' administrations. He said the uncertain situation was creating difficulties for them because they were accompanied by young children and elderly men and women, some of whom had fallen sick.
"We request the Pakistani government to evacuate us from here ... this is our constitutional right," he said.
After the scholar's video went viral on social media, the Pakistan Embassy contacted the citizens stuck at the airport to assure them that they will be provided a hotel until their departure from China is sorted out. Rauf said they were waiting for the embassy to take action in this regard.
In a second video message, Rauf stressed that none of the Pakistanis stuck in Ürümqi had been affected by the novel coronavirus and that they were in Xinjiang, which is far away from Wuhan — the epicentre of the virus outbreak.
He said the Pakistani government could send a team to screen the passengers for the virus but that it should make efforts to evacuate them soon.