ISLAMABAD: The consulate of a country or the consular services’ section of its embassy is usually the first for its nationals to turn to in case of an emergency while abroad, but Covid-19 pandemic has forced diplomatic missions not only of Pakistan but most other countries of the world, especially those located in the disease hotspots, to either close down or go online.
A look at websites of Pakistani missions in Milan, New York, Washington, Vancouver, Toronto, Paris, just to quote a few instances, have put out notices of closure of walk-in services because of the pandemic. There are others, which have closed public dealing, but have not notified it on their websites.
FO Spokesperson Aisha Farooqi, while confirming that the mode of provision of consular services had changed, said: “There are lockdowns in almost every country especially the US, UK, France, and Italy. Most of our missions are in emergency mode and providing only online services and through social media.”
There is, however, at least one Pakistani consulate — the one in Barcelona — that remains open to serve the 70,000-strong Pakistani community in Spain’s Catalunya region. It was probably one of the locations where this service was needed the most as a large number of Pakistanis living there are poorly educated and do not understand English. They had been into menial jobs there, which they have lost because of the massive lockdown there.
“Practicing the online mantra here in Spain is inhuman. Most Pakistanis settled here are not educated beyond the primary level, have massively lost their informal jobs and livelihood for the past month and a half, need passports to process their residence and applications by post to Spanish offices with deadlines, hungry families at homes, parents don’t have money to buy medicines for the children. Can I lock the doors of the consulate to these Pakistanis and affix an emergency number of a staff member at the door?” Consul General Imran Ali asked.
When asked about the risk of keeping the consulate open, he said: “Yes, I am at risk, my staff is at risk, but we take the risk to help the Pakistani community in this city. Are hospitals not open in Pakistan? Are police officers in Pakistan not interacting with the people? The consulate in this city has the role of a mother to its people. We can’t hide behind this false online mantra.”
Published in Dawn, April 14th, 2020