June 14, 2022
By Rehan Piracha
LAHORE: Over 7,000 Pakistanis enrolled in Chinese universities are trapped in a whirlpool of hope and despair for over two years.
They are studying online for two years because China has barred the return of foreign students due to the COVID travel ban. The students blame the Pakistani government for not doing much for their return to campuses in China.
“I am a scholarship student in a polytechnic institute in China but I have been waiting to travel to my campus there for over two years now,” said Dr. Arsalan in a video message posted on social media. He has corresponded with officials in the Chinese institute who told him that they could do nothing till the Chinese government allowed them to take back foreign students.
“Over 7000 students in Pakistan have not been able to proceed to their universities in China,” said a female student enrolled post-graduation programme in electronics at a Chinese university. “How come we can complete our education if we do not have access to research labs in our Chinese university,” she said. In the two-year period, they had met with officials in the Higher Education Commission and Ministry of Foreign Affairs but go no assurances about when they could join their campuses in China.
Pakistan’s Foreign Office says China has agreed to return of Pakstani students in a phased manner. “We have responded on this matter a couple of times on the issue of return of Pakistani students to campusesin China,” Asim Iftikhar, spokesperson for Foreign Office, told Voicepk.net. He referred to his recent weekly briefing transcripts for a detailed response on the issue.
In response to a question about the update on the return of Pakistani students to China on May 27, the FO spokesperson explained that Chinese universities adopted the policy of online classes for all foreign students, including from Pakistan, in the wake of COVID pandemic since 2020.
“And during the meeting between Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto and State Councilor Wang Yi on 22nd May in China, the Chinese side again assured that efforts would be made for safe and secure return of Pakistani students in a phased manner,” Asim Iftikhar said in his weekly briefing.
“The Chinese authorities have selected the first batch of 251 priority students for return to China,” the FO spokesperson said, adding that the government is considering a special charter flight for their return. “Gradual opening up of Chinese universities would allow for return of more Pakistani students in the coming months,” he told reporters on May 27.
The Pak-China Student Council, in an open letter to Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif, alleged that the students had not yet received visas or flight dates due to the Foreign Ministry’s incompetence. Sources said that China has not yet informed Pakistan about the departure date of the charter flight.
Pakistani students have also started a social media trend with the hashtags Take US Back to China and Seven Thousand to record their protest, which has received thousands of tweets. Apparently, the Pakistani authorities have only one answer to all these protests. That is to wait for the promised charter flight to China otherwise there is no possibility of their return.