ISLAMABAD : The Speaker National Assembly, Asad Qaiser chaired a meeting to discuss issues in repatriation of Pakistanis stranded abroad. In participation were Foreign Minister, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Special Assistant to PM for Overseas Pakistanis, Syed Zulfi Bukhari, Convener of the Committee to Oversee Repatriation of Stranded Expatriates Abroad, Mr. Shahid Ahmad along with Chairs of National Assembly’s Standing Committees for Foreign Affairs and Overseas Pakistanis, Malik Muhammad Ahsaanulaah Tiwana and Sheikh Fiazuddin. The Speaker in his opening remarks emphasized that the Pakistani diaspora abroad is an asset for the country and is facing number of challenges due to the COVID-19 situation. He enumerated problems being faced by stranded Pakistanis, desirous of returning back to Pakistan and hoped that relevant government departments would ensure their redressal. Foreign Minister, Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi apprised the meeting that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is proactively coordinating the repatriation. He informed that a Crisis Management Unit was established for this purpose, which is manned/operates 24/7 and round the clock. Over 62000 Pakistanis have already been repatriated (including 1712 prisoners) from over 60 countries, whilst efforts are afoot to bring back the remaining 90,000+. The repatriated also included some 2018 members of the Tableeghi Jamaat out of 2054 stranded abroad. Additionally, 479 dead bodies have also been brought back home. He remarked that from within their budgets, Pakistan’s Missions abroad have spent over Rs.150 million to assist the stranded Pakistanis. The Foreign Minister underscored that although Ministry of Foreign Affairs has been coordinating repatriation efforts however it reserves no role in sale of air tickets to the stranded. He ended his remarks by lauding the work of both Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Overseas Pakistanis. Syed Zulfi Bukhari stated that the capacity to repatriate has been enhanced from 2000/week to 18,000/week with operationalization of six airports. He informed of plans for resumption of air traffic up to 40% of the pre-lockdown levels. He hoped that these measures would substantially alleviate problems bein faced by stranded Pakistanis in coming back home. He also informed the gathering that over 580 students have been repatriated from China through provision of up to 50% subsidized air tickets. In responding to questions by parliamentarians, FM stressed that priority was being given to strandees who were either on expired visit visas or have lost their jobs. He applauded the work of Pakistani embassies and consulates who were ensuring high level of services despite limited human resource available amidst local lockdowns and restrictions on movement. In recapping the discussion, the Speaker expressed satisfaction at the work of Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Overseas Pakistanis. He underlined that better coordination amongst various stakeholders could further improve the service delivery. He observed the need for maximum dissemination of information to allay concerns of Pakistani diaspora abroad.
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