Coronavirus: Pakistan completes UAE repatriation operation with 60,000 returned home

Consul general Ahmed Amjad Ali said citizens can now book regular flights directly with airlines

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Pakistan's campaign to repatriate UAE residents has been completed, with more 60,000 citizens leaving the country since March.

Ahmed Amjad Ali, Pakistan's consul general in Dubai, said any other residents wishing to leave could book tickets directly with airlines or travel agents.

Until now, residents required consular approval to book flights home.

About 30,000 residents were sent home on 141 special PIA and flydubai services from Dubai," Mr Ali said on Saturday. "A further 10,000 travelled home on UAE-owned carriers and the remaining were on PIA flights out of Abu Dhabi.

“This was Pakistan’s largest ever repatriation.

We faced a lot of difficulties and seven of our staff were infected with the virus. They were working day and night for our citizens."

“We have successfully completed it and I would say about 80 to 90 per cent of those who wanted to go back have been repatriated.

“A few of those who are still remaining had immigration fines on them, but majority of the people have been sent home.”

About 80,000 citizens had registered to go home, he said. The majority were job seekers on visit visas, residents who had lost their jobs or those with medical or family emergencies.

Mr Ali said PIA will now be carrying out “normal operations”, with other Pakistani airlines – Airblue and Serene Air – expected to resume their operations soon.

On June 24, Emirates Airline said it would continue repatriation flights to Pakistan, but reversed the decision after a surge in Covid-19 cases there. Etihad Airways and flydubai also halted flights to Pakistan on Friday.

In addition, 26 people on board a flight from Pakistan to Hong Kong via Dubai tested positive for the virus.

Passengers arriving in Pakistan undergo thermal screening, but are only tested if they have symptoms.

A 15-day self-quarantine is mandatory for all passengers, and those who test positive are quarantined at a government facility.

Among those repatriated were 460 homeless people. Mr Ali said the consulate provided accommodation and food before sending them home.

“We faced a lot of difficulties and, at times, we felt we might have to end it. But, we carried through and successfully completed the operation,” Mr Ali said.

“Seven of our staff were infected with the virus and have recovered. They were working day and night for our citizens.”

Normal consular services will resume on Wednesday, July 1.

Pakistan and India have run the largest repatriation campaigns in recent months, as expatriates who had lost jobs or decided to send family members home applied to leave.

India said about 90,000 citizens had been flown home, far fewer than the 450,000 who applied at one stage.

Separately, thousands of Indians with UAE residency who were in their home country when the borders closed are waiting to return to the Emirates. At present, only special Air India repatriation and private chartered flights are allowed to operate – and they cannot take passengers in the other direction.

On Thursday, UAE Ambassador to India Ahmed Al Banna told The National that scheduled flights for those with permission from the UAE's immigration authorities should begin in several weeks' time.