– Story by Asra Haque.
Mohammad Rashid Memon and his family were expecting to return by March 21, 2020. They had all flown to Turkey on March 15 of March for a vacation. Little did they know what the future had in store for them.
Upon reaching the Istanbul Airport, they were told that the Pakistani government had closed its airspace and suspended all its flights owing to the coronavirus pandemic. Even after they were given tickets for March 25, they were again turned away.
Since then, he and his family have been hopping from one hotel to another in the midst of a rapidly spreading contagion, with no idea when they will be able to return home to their loved ones.
“We just want to go home, we are begging our Government, our institutions to allow us to fly back to our country,” he said.
With approximately 790,000 cases and 38,000 casualties, countries all around the world are resorting to extraordinary measures to rein in the rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic. In an attempt to “flatten the curve” – reduce the rate at which new COVID-19 cases are emerging – minimal human contact is imperative. And to accomplish this, nations have had to restrict movement not just between countries, but even within cities and neighborhoods.
But the sudden and resolute ban on movement, especially between countries, has left many stranded in nations they don’t belong to. And in Turkey, the number of Pakistanis who are stuck there is close to almost 200. For them, the situation seems dire.
With hotels closing down and refusing to accommodate any more guests amidst state-imposed regulations, they are growing increasingly aware of their vulnerability. Even the money they had is quickly running out. Appealing to the Government of Pakistan is the only recourse they – but to no avail. They have received no assurances so far.
But speaking with Voicepk.net, the official spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ms. Aisha Farooqi reassured that the Pakistani Consulate was in constant touch with the stranded Pakistanis and was doing its utmost, in collaboration with the Turkish government. She said Pakistan was ensuring that the needs of its citizens were being met in a timely and satisfactory manner.
What needs and when would they be met was a question Ms. Farooqi said she currently could not provide an answer for as this was a concern of the Consulate and the Turkish Government.
“The Turkish government is extending its furthest cooperation in resolving the concerns of our citizens trapped abroad,” she assured.
But the families stuck in Turkey seek more than just promises.
Families currently residing at the Levent Hotel in Istanbul allege that the hotel management has told them to vacate the premises within 24 hours.
“We have the elderly and children among us, where are we supposed to go?” claims one of those stranded, speaking in a distressed voice. “All other hotels have closed down, and Levent Hotel management is telling is to pack up and leave by tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Memon said that even though the Consulate was providing them with meals, and even medicines for the truly needy, the trapped families must pay hotel expenses out of their own pockets. But they did not bring enough money as they were completely unprepared for a global lock-down. And as hotels were being sealed one by one, Memon said families must make their way toward whichever next hotel the Consulate points them toward, draining them of their already diminishing finances.
This time, it’s the Midmar Deluxe Hotel in Istanbul.
Misinformation is also adding to their burdens.
Unverified images from news channels back home, claiming that the Pakistanis stranded in Turkey were going to be brought back to their home country were being shared among the families, giving them false hope and even causing more confusion.
Some claim that the consulate had verbally confirmed PIA flights for the trapped Pakistanis, while others say there was no official word whatsoever except requests by the consulate to ‘exercise patience’ – patience that has been running thin over the course of three weeks.
As Pakistan struggles to barely meet the needs of its people at home, Pakistanis trapped in Istanbul have little or no recourse than to wait and hope.