Pressure builds on UK to repatriate citizens from Pakistan

Updated April 01, 2020


Special flight from Islamabad takes stranded Germans home. — AFP/File
Special flight from Islamabad takes stranded Germans home. — AFP/File

LONDON / RAWALPINDI: The departure of a special flight from Islamabad to Germany on Tuesday sparked anger among British nationals, who are demanding that their government do more to repatriate vulnerable UK citizens stuck in Pakistan amid the coronavirus pandemic.

As many as 262 German nationals boarded a chartered Qatar Airways flight on Tuesday and departed from Islamabad at 11am, an aviation division spokesman confirmed to Dawn.

On Twitter, Germany’s ambassador to Pakistan Bernhard Schlagheck thanked the Pakistani authorities for “excellent cooperation”.

The Canadian High Commission, too, has announced special flights scheduled for departure to Toronto from Lahore and Karachi on April 2.

These flights are operating after special permission was sought by their respective missions from the Pakistan government.

Special flight from Islamabad takes stranded Germans home

A PIA spokesperson told Dawn that the national carrier has asked the federal government for permission to operate these flights and is waiting for a decision.

On March 21, Pakistan announced that it had halted all international flight operations till April 4 as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths increased, leaving foreign nationals who were scheduled to travel stranded.

Among the passengers are over 500 British nationals who are asking their government to act fast to take especially vulnerable citizens back home.

“This is outrageous. We have heard Canadian nationals and German nationals are both being rescued from Pakistan. What is happening for UK nationals?” said UK national Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan on Twitter.

‘High-risk category’

Suhaiymah said her posts on social media have struck a chord with other British citizens stranded in Pakistan, and that she has been inundated with emails from them as they are anxious to go back home.

In a form shared with Dawn, Suhaiymah has documented the details of 534 British nationals, 80 per cent of whom were booked to travel between March 21 and April 4.

The form also shows that a high number of these individuals would fall in the “high-risk” category for contracting Covid-19, as many of them suffer from diabetes, asthma and heart disease.

“People are worried that they won’t have access to good healthcare [in Pakistan] as compared to the NHS,” she said, adding that family members of citizens in the UK have reached out to her and expressed fears about their relatives not getting the required medicines in Pakistan.

In a video message released on Tuesday, British High Commissioner to Pakistan Dr Christian Turner said authorities were doing “everything” to facilitate UK citizens’ return.

“We are doing everything we can to help support you to return home. That is my and my team’s single priority. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work going on with the government of Pakistan and airlines to deliver that,” he said.

The UK this week committed £75 million to help Britons stranded abroad by chartering rescue flights when there are no other routes available.

At the daily Downing Street briefing on Covid-19, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the new plan will help tens of thousands of travellers.

Mr Raab said priority would be given to the most vulnerable including the elderly or those with pressing medical needs and also to countries where there are large numbers of British tourists trying to return to the UK.

Reports suggest that up to a million Britons are thought to be stranded as airlines and borders across the world shut down in a bid to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

Published in Dawn, April 1st, 2020