By Ajmal Khan Yousafzai
Im a British resident stranded in Pakistan “ should I stay put or be repatriated on a special charter flight? The answer is as complicated as the question itself. Thousands of British travellers stranded in Pakistan are set to return to the United Kingdom (UK) on a string of special government charter flights operating from Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. The official UK foreign travel advisory urges all British nationals willing to go home to register for these flights by May 1st since there is no guarantee that there will be any further flights. Could this potentially be one of my last chances to get home anytime soon?
Yet, this complicated scheduling of emergency departures raises important questions, such as: who will foot the bill for such an undertaking? My flight back to the UK was scheduled for March 20th via Turkish Airlines. Although, at the time, the airline had made no official announcement of cancelling flights, a woman from the UK was stranded in Turkey on March 17th since the country placed a travel ban two hours before her flight to the UK departed. Therefore, Iâ€™m glad I didnâ€™t risk flying out that day and rescheduled the flight to a new unknown date. In Pakistan, the lockdown rules were put in place on March 22nd. At that time, there were only a few cases here, which is why I was not initially worried. However, the number of reported coronavirus cases significantly spiked, which subsequently led Prime Minister Imran Khan to announce the ban on international flights. This cancellation of flights has taken place across the globe and, while necessary, has resulted in passengers being left to fend for themselves. As a result, the onus has fallen upon individual nations to help their citizens return back home. As a result, two special flights from Karachi and Lahore took 600 Canadians back to Canada earlier this month.
Now that flights to the UK are gearing up for departure over the next few days, many potential travellers are having to face a dilemma. Should only travellers without residency rights leave their current host country or should all outsiders exit? Many British Pakistanis have established second-homes in Pakistan, and only a few stay in hotels, while others choose to spend time with relatives. But, given the situation, it is not surprising that many British nationals holidaying in Pakistan want to leave as soon as possible if flights back home are available. However, prior to making this decision, it is imperative that these individuals find out about their access to healthcare facilities during and after the crisis, be it in Pakistan or in the UK.
Naturally, the hope for now is that the UK government will not abandon us but, currently, our future is in the hands of Pakistanâ€™s authorities. That also means that we must follow the same obligations enforced upon the nationals of Pakistan and shouldnâ€™t expect the government to make any exceptions for us just because we are foreign nationals if it comes at the cost of public health.
Furthermore, the fact that these charter flights are only flying to Manchester presents a problem for those travellers who reside in other parts of the country. Even if they manage to fly back to the UK, how exactly will they be transported back to their homes in other cities? As locals are unable to use their nationâ€™s airports, foreigners are given special permission to depart. Which brings us back to the original question: what about the cost of these repatriation flights? For now, it seems that it is up to the individual traveller to check up on the schedule of these flights and pay a huge amount in advance in order to guarantee a seat. As a result, it has become far too expensive to return back home. Regardless, the initiative to have emergency chartered flights is praiseworthy. Additionally, there is a likely risk of being exposed to the virus whilst on the departure route home. This has put plenty of overseas Pakistanis in a state of flux, with many of them unsure as to what their next move should be. However, given the sheer extent of this pandemic, perhaps it is advisable for overseas Pakistanis currently in Pakistan to stay put, for now.