After the United Arab Emirates threatened to review labor ties with countries refusing to repatriate their citizens, thousands of stranded Pakistanis are now beginning to return home on special repatriation flights.
The first flight carrying more than 200 Pakistanis left for Islamabad on Saturday, the Pakistani Consulate in Dubai announced on Twitter. Citizens will return home on 20 special flights during a third phase of repatriations beginning Monday, said Pakistan Foreign Ministry spokesperson Aisha Farooqui.
More than 40,000 Pakistanis have registered with the consulate to return home from the emirates, which suspended passenger flights out of the country last month. There are roughly 1.6 million Pakistanis living and working in the UAE. Those with expired residencies were given a three-month extension and visa overstay fines for visitors have been waived.
Earlier this month, the UAE said it would review labor relations with states refusing to take back their citizens, including migrant laborers who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.
Pakistan’s ambassador to the UAE, Ghulam Dastagir, told Gulf News that a lack of quarantine facilities in Pakistan's airports has slowed the repatriation process.
“It is not an easy task to repatriate all of them during the current circumstances when the flights are closed and the country is under lockdown,” Dastagir told the news outlet on April 11.
With 7,265 confirmed cases and 43 deaths announced by the Health Ministry Monday, the United Arab Emirates has the second-highest infection rate in the Gulf region after Saudi Arabia.
After grounding all passenger flights in March, the state-owned Emirates airline announced in mid-April plans to resume limited outbound service to Algiers, Tunis, Jakarta, Manila, Taipei, Kabul and Chicago for those wanting to leave the emirates.
Emirates is the first air carrier to roll out on-site coronavirus testing. Before boarding, passengers on a Tunisia-bound flight were screened last week with a blood test the Dubai Health Ministry said produced results in under 10 minutes.