WITH Covid-19 turning the global order upside down, governments worldwide have been taking unprecedented measures to halt the spread of the contagion. The foremost of these is internal lockdowns, coupled with the temporary closure of borders. In the midst of such difficult circumstances arises the question of repatriating citizens wanting to return from foreign shores. As reported in this paper on Tuesday, around 20,000 Pakistanis stranded in the UAE are seeking to return home. Expectedly, these individuals are facing a tough time in the Emirates; some have lost their jobs or have not been paid by their firms, while the visas of others have expired. As per media reports, ‘‘hundreds’’ of Pakistanis gathered outside the consulate in Dubai on Sunday demanding to return home.
The plight of citizens stranded abroad is indeed a dire one, especially when jobs have been lost. However, the question arises: can the health system in this country screen, quarantine and treat such a large number of people were they to be brought back immediately? The best possible response to this difficult situation would be for the state to work in close coordination with the UAE authorities to ensure Pakistanis stranded in the Emirates have access to quality healthcare, housing and food until the coronavirus crisis dissipates. The UAE government should extend the visas of those whose documents have expired, while Pakistani missions in the Emirates must keep in constant touch with stranded citizens to assure them that the state stands by them in these trying times, and that they will be able to return as soon as it is feasible. By no means should citizens feel that they have been left in the lurch by their government at a time of a global crisis. It is a fact that every citizen has the right to return home at any time of their choosing. However, those Pakistanis stranded abroad should be encouraged to return at a more opportune time, when the danger that an easily transmissible infection poses to public health has reduced considerably.
Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2020