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Pakistan begins repatriating nationals from UAE

April 20, 2020 at 1:33 pm

Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi (C) welcomes UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan (R) and Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir (L) upon their arrival at Noor Khan Airbase in Islamabad on September 04, 2019 [Foreign Ministry of Pakistan/Handout – Anadolu Agency]

Pakistan has come under pressure to repatriate thousands of its migrant workers after Abu Dhabi threatened to reconsider labour relations with countries that refuse to take back their citizens during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Pakistani Consulate General in Dubai said that 227 “passengers stranded” in the UAE were flown back during the weekend from Dubai and other Emirati cities. This is a fraction of the number of Pakistani citizens waiting to return to Islamabad.

Two Emirati newspapers reported that more than 40,000 Pakistanis in the country had registered with the consulate to return to their country. There is no clarification over when other flights would begin.

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Migrant workers live in some of the poorest neighbourhoods. The UAE and other Gulf states have announced an increase in infections among low-income migrant workers living in overcrowded housing. Some of these countries have moved to re-house migrant workers in closed schools and community centres. They are also seeking to return them to their countries to reduce pressure on their system.

The UAE announced 479 new infections and four deaths yesterday, raising the total number to 6,781 and 41 deaths so far.

Last week the UAE warned that it would review its relations with countries that refuse to evacuate their citizens, including those that had lost their jobs or received work permits, after the ambassadors of India and Pakistan said that their countries were not ready to fly them back.

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Millions of foreign workers, many of them Asian, are the pillar of economies in the Gulf region and work in sectors stalled by the spread of the virus.

The total number of cases of infection in the six Gulf Cooperation Council states increased to 26,600  with 167 deaths recorded despite measures to contain its spread, such as stopping passenger flights and imposing curfews, and in several cases isolating neighbourhoods inhabited by a large number of low-income expatriate workers.

Saudi Arabia set a record 1,088 new cases of coronavirus within 24 hours. The kingdom has the largest number of coronavirus cases and suffered the highest number of deaths of the six Gulf states. Saudi authorities said that 83 per cent of the new confirmed cases were non-Saudis.

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