Mother of student Tayyaba Riaz studying in China weeps in front of Special Assistant to Prime Minister on National Health Services Dr Zafar Mirza during the meeting at OPF College, F-8, on Wednesday. — Online
Mother of student Tayyaba Riaz studying in China weeps in front of Special Assistant to Prime Minister on National Health Services Dr Zafar Mirza during the meeting at OPF College, F-8, on Wednesday. — Online

ISLAMABAD: The families of Pakistanis who have not been evacuated from China amid the outbreakof the coronavirus known as COVID-19 protested calling for their return and refused the argument put forward by special assistants to the prime minister onoverseas Pakistanis and national health services.

They blocked Margalla Road in F-8 in protest, arguing that even Afghanistan and Bangladesh had evacuated their citizens from China and asked why Pakistan decided not to do so.

They announced that they would protest and hold a sit-in outside the Chinese embassy and outside ministries if their concerns are not addressed.

A briefing for the relatives of Pakistanis who are stranded in China was arranged on directions from the Islamabad High Court (IHC) to take them into confidence regarding why the government decided not to evacuate citizens.

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis Syed Zulfiqar Bukhari told participants at the briefing that the coronavirus situation in China has become complicated.

Threaten to hold sit-in outside Chinese embassy if students not evacuated in three days

“We are aware and can realise the problem and anxiety of parents. However, we can assure you that those Pakistani citizens are in safe hands. China has also given permission for two representatives from the Pakistani embassy to visit the affected area and observe the students’ issues. Pakistan is the only country that has been sending diplomats to the affected area and even they will not be able to return without [being quarantined],” he said.

A representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said ministry officials care more about the 1,200 students than themselves, adding: “Two representatives of the embassy have gone into theNCV-hitarea and we can see their movement live.”

Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on NHS Dr Zafar Mirza said he, the cabinet and the government could understand the anxiety of the families and had therefore decided to hold the briefing.

“Being parents you must be wishing that your children should return today rather than tomorrow and you will not agree to any argument by us. Concerns of parents are right but we should also see the situation,” he said.

One person in attendance pointed to Dr Mirza and said that he had announced the students would not be evacuated.

Other participants also began criticising the government and refused tocontinue withthe briefing, and some even climbed on stage, at which point they were stopped by police.

The families of the students were of the view that the government was not doing enough. They said that even the briefing was held on the IHC’s orders, while the government was putting forward childish assurances.

Some parents said that they were willing to donate money to bring back their children and thanked the high court for hearing their issue. One of the parents said that his child was not getting food or water, and this situation was keeping him up at night.

“Dr Mirza said he cared about 200 million people but we have nothing to do with the people. We just want our children to return, and we are not ready to listen to any other logic,” he said.

Dr Mirza said that the government was ensuring that the students and the nation is protected from the coronavirus outbreak, adding that there would be more disadvantages to bringing the students home than advantages.

One of the parents asked if the financial condition of Pakistan was worse than that of Bangladesh and Afghanistan, which have evacuated their citizens.

“You speak about the youth but do not care about it. If our children are not brought back in three days, we will hold a sit-in in front of the Chinese embassy. We will also lockdown your offices. Bring our children in Pakistan and keep them in a safe place,” he said.

The families then left the school, blocked the main road and shouted slogans against the government. Director General Health Dr Safi Malik and an additional deputy commissioner met with them to persuade them to disperse peacefully, but the families remained on the road until this report was filed.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2020