The United Arab Emirates has been criticised by Pakistan for allowing migrant workers infected with Covid-19 to leave the country. As many as 50 per cent have tested positive for the virus on their return from the Gulf state, which had been applying pressure on Islamabad to repatriate thousands of its citizens during the coronavirus pandemic.
According to Dr Moeed Yusuf, on most flights from the UAE to Pakistan around 12 per cent of the passengers are infected with Covid-19. The national security adviser to Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan added that the infection rate on some of the flights was as high as 40 to 50 per cent.
Dr Yusuf blamed the poor conditions under which foreign migrants live in the wealthy Gulf state for the high rate of infection. “The hypothesis is that a lot of the labourers live in crowded dormitories where, essentially, it’s easier to infect each other,” he told Reuters.
However, UAE officials have rejected the claim that they allowed migrant workers infected with Covid-19 to board flights. “Everyone on UAE repatriation flights has been tested before departure, and those found to be infected were not allowed to travel,” insisted Assistant Undersecretary for Consular Affairs Khalid Al-Mazrouei.
Pakistan is a major supplier of cheap labour to the UAE. More than a million Pakistanis live and work in the country, often in poor conditions that are ideal for the spread of the coronavirus.
When the UAE imposed a lockdown to contain the spread of the virus, many migrant workers sought to leave. In April, thousands were left stranded due to the lack of flights. Islamabad began to increase repatriation some weeks later, a response that seemed to have been prompted by a warning from Abu Dhabi that it would review its relations with countries that refuse to evacuate their citizens.