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Sunday May 03 2020
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Several Pakistani students still stranded in Britain since COVID-19 lockdown

Unsplash/Jesus Rodriguez/via Geo.tv

LONDON/MANCHESTER: Several Pakistani students remain stranded across the UK, desperately waiting for assistance from the Pakistan High Commission, the government in Islamabad, and the country's national carrier.

The British government had on March 23 announced a nationwide lockdown with travel restrictions to contain the coronavirus pandemic. Thousands of international students from different countries, including Pakistan, were unable to leave due to cancellation of flight operations.

Speaking to Geo.tv, Fawad Ahmed Malik, a student at University of Hertfordshire studying operations and supply chain management since January 2019, said his flight was booked for May 1, from Heathrow Airport in London to Lahore's Allama Iqbal International Airport.

"I am trying to contact PIA [Pakistan International Airlines] to confirm my flight timings but they are not answering my calls or responding to my emails," Malik said.

“The Pakistan High Commission has not replied to any of my emails yet. They have just sent me an automated response," he said.

"No one from either the PIA or High Commission has contacted me so far. My parents in Islamabad are also worried as I have no money at all to eat or live,” he added.

Malik appealed to the Pakistani High Commission in London to arrange his departure or accommodation in the UK.

The High Commission told Geo.tv that it has designated First Secretary Muhammad Aneel Zafar exclusively for students affairs and publicised it in the media and on the mission’s website.

"Fawad Ahmed Malik sent an email to the High Commission London on 29th April for his repatriation to Pakistan. His email was responded [to with the message] that his request has been registered," a spokesperson for the High Commission said.

"In response to the High Commission’s press release dated 25 March, stranded Pakistanis have been registering with the High Commission ever since. More than 1,800 stranded Pakistanis are registered with us.

"Priority is accorded as mentioned in the High Commissioner’s message to the community. Keeping in view the student’s situation, the High Commission will provide necessary support to him," the spokesperson added.

PIA flight PK-758 from London to Lahore was scheduled to take stranded Pakistanis from the UK on May 1 but was cancelled without notice to its passengers. Scores of people now remain in a limbo over their future in Britain and were in regular contact with the national carrier and the Commission.

Speaking to Geo.tv, a PIA spokesperson said: "Regular flight operations to and from Pakistan have been suspended till 16 May. PIA is flying special flights after obtaining permissions from the government of Pakistan to repatriate stranded Pakistanis from all across the globe.

"For all such passengers who had a booking before the outbreak of COVID-19 are put on hold, and will be accommodated as flight operations normalise. These special flights can be best termed as charters and are operated on the behest of the govt of Pakistan and coordinated and controlled by concerned Pakistan’s foreign missions.

"The last two flights operated on April 23 and May 1 from the UK to Pakistan and brought back 250 passengers in each flight carrying passengers who had registered themselves with PHC [Pakistan High Commission in the] UK,” the PIA spokesperson said.