Pakistani students leaving Kygyzstan after mob attacks to exceed 4,000: Dar

Published May 22, 2024
Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar speaking at a press conference on Wednesday.—screenshot from DawnNewsTV
Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar speaking at a press conference on Wednesday.—screenshot from DawnNewsTV

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar on Wednesday said that the number of Pakistani students who fled Kyrgyzstan following the May 18 mob attacks has surpassed 3,000, and is expected to exceed 4,000 by midnight.

His press conference in Islamabad comes after his visit to the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek on Tuesday where he spoke to officials about the recent mob attacks targeting international students, among whom were Pakistanis.

“I had said that I would not be placated until I physically come to Kyrgyzstan. The president had assured me that everything is under control and not to worry.

“But I told him that I would like to come and meet the injured and meet with the deputy prime minister,” Dar said.

He expressed his gratitude to his counterpart, Jeenbek Kulubaev, for arranging for him to immediately fly from Astana — where he attended a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization(SCO) — to Bishkek.

There, he visited the National Hospital met with a Pakistani student, Shahzaib, who has sustained a jaw injury. He noted that the patient had expressed a strong desire to return home and undertake further treatment there, which the Kyrgyz authorities obliged at Dar’s request.

The foreign minister noted that he declined the offer to stay overnight in Bishkek since he had to return to Islamabad and then head to Tehran today for the funeral of Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi.

Dar was informed by his counterpart that the president had made a public statement saying he would not tolerate any such incidents, adding that foreign students and workers are valuable guests who contribute to Kyrgyzstan’s economy.

According to Dar, the president said intelligence agencies had identified and also arrested perpetrators of the attack. Dar quoted the president a saying: “If an incident like this ever happens again, I will not spare anyone and they will be punished.”

“The second thing I want to talk about, which I was shocked to hear, was that we have about 1,100 workers there, who came on the guise of being tourists and then started working without any visa or legal documents.

“Naturally, the government is trying to trace them so that they can be deported. If we were in the same situation, we would also not let such people off the hook.

“I thought to avail this opportunity — and obviously there was a sympathy factor in this — that I request that these 1,100 workers who are now working there, who say they have never broken a law, who are law-abiding and hard working, that instead of deporting them, regularise them. Give them proper visas, so that these 1,100 families do not suffer through the deportation process,” Dar said.

“I am grateful to the deputy PM for immediately obliging the request and getting it approved by the National Security Committee and the immigration ministry and authorities.”

He expressed his gratitude that 1,100 families did not have to face the hardship of the deportation process of the workers, adding that this was a great achievement for Pakistan.

Dar noted that the Pakistani foreign ministry would follow up on this matter with its Kyrgyz counterpart.

“I asked the ambassador why this whole incident had escalated so much. Now, the students are scared, as per my assessment,” according to Dar, who met students at the Islamabad International Airport upon their arrival.

He noted that he had conveyed to the Kyrgyz deputy PM and FM that it was their responsibility to send delegations to meet with Pakistani students at the hostel and assure them of recent developments being discussed.

Dar announced his decision to form an inquiry committee on the incident, for the satisfaction of everyone, including the foreign ministry and Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

According to Dar, this would be a fact-finding committee to determine how the events of the mob attack unfolded. The committee would meet with all relevant people, including members of the Kyrgyz government.

“[The committee] will also assess how the issue was handled by our mission and how much responsibility they took. They had established two helplines on WhatsApp. But one side of the story is not enough.”

The committee will be notified today, and within two weeks must submit a report on its findings, Dar said.

So far, 3233 Pakistani students have been repatriated through special and commercial flights, according to Dar.

A further 513 students will return on flights arranged by the federal government, while 290 students will return on flights arranged for by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government.

“So that brings the total to 4,036 students. This is a big number,” Dar said.

“The government, particularly the foreign ministry, will monitor this closely, and we will immediately take all actions necessary.”

When asked about what arrangements the government has made for the students who have returned to Pakistan, Dar acknowledged that their medical future is already in question.

“The Higher Education Commission does not recognize the medical certificates [students] obtain from abroad.

“PM Shehbaz has already constituted a committee under my watch to figure out the solution for this issue, so we can figure out how to incentivize students wanting to go abroad and pursue medicine to study in Pakistani medical universities so that they don’t struggle with degree recognition with the HEC later on,” Dar said.

With regards to the matter of 1,100 Pakistanis who were working in Kyrgyzstan without proper documentation, Dar said he would take up the matter with the interior minister.

According to Dar, students in their final year of university were keen to stay back in Bishkek, and that the majority of students who returned to Pakistan were in the initial stages of their education.

The committee constituted by PM Shehbaz will coordinate with local Kyrgyz universities on how to proceed with student’s relocation back to Bishkek, Dar said.

“A meeting has already been set to be held on Friday by the DG FMO. The students I met at the Bishkek airport were grateful for the arrangements of their safe return and requested me to assist them with their degree recognition with the HEC,” Dar said, underscoring that this was a serious matter.

“The decision of the future of these students as to whether they should go back or not is entirely up to the students and their families.

“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already been directed to beef up our missions in Kyrgyzstan to assist the Pakistani nationals, manage their affairs on the diplomatic level and secure their safe return,” Dar said.

Thousands of Pakistani students have fled Kyrgyzstan since the May 18 attacks, and more continue to return to Pakistan. More than 12,000 Pakistanis were studying in the capital, a Kyrgyz official had said in January.

On Monday, Dar urged his Kyrgyz counterpart Jeenbek Kulubaev to take swift action against the perpetrators involved in the recent attacks on Pakistani students.

200 more students land in Peshawar

A second plane carrying Pakistani students from Bishkek arrived at Bacha Khan International Airport Peshawar in early hours of Wednesday, according to the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA).

Almost 200 students safely returned home on the special flight arranged by the KP government.

Several provincial ministers, DG PDMA and high-ranking officials were present at the airport to receive Pakistani students.

Moreover, many students’ parents were at the airport to meet with their loved ones.

PDMA said it also provided transport facilities to returning students, adding that the names of Pakistani students still stranded in Kyrgyzstan were also being documented.

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