A special charter flight bringing stranded Australian citizens back from Pakistan amid the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown has also taken Pakistani citizens home.
A group of 300 Australians, who had been stuck in Pakistan, landed in Melbourne aboard a Pakistan International Airlines charter flight from Lahore at the weekend.
Shuaib Baig and Naila Ahmad along with their three children are “relieved” to be back home.
“So relieved, even though we are in quarantine but it is not troubling us,” Mr Baig told SBS Urdu.
- Rescue flight brings 300 Australians back home
- More than 200 Pakistanis stranded in Australia repatriated back home
- Passengers in mandatory quarantine for 14 days
Mr Baig said it was a very hard journey getting onto the flight but said he's glad that the whole family is back safe and sound.
“The crew members were awesome during the flight. They looked after us quite well which was really helpful. We are so glad to be back to our normal routine.”
“We are very proud to bring Pakistani’s back home to Melbourne and we are taking people back home to Lahore,” the captain of the chartered flight, Naeem Zaman, told SBS Urdu.
“It is our government and airline policy to help people come back to their home,” he said, adding the direct flight only took around 12 hours and 20 minutes.
The flight was organised in cooperation with Australian High Commission in Islamabad working closely with the Pakistani Government and Pakistan International Airlines.
In a statement posted to social media the Australian High Commission wished the passengers a warm reunion with their family and assured citizens who are still stuck that they are working on further options to get Australians home.
Dr Syma Iqbal along with her three children travelled to Pakistan for her sister's weddings in early March, but that was cut short due to the pandemic lockdown with only 25 people attending.
The children had been separated from their father for more than a month.
"Obviously, it's very good that we are finally back home. There is a sense of relief," Dr Iqbal said.
"The kids cannot wait to meet their father."
Dr Iqbal said they had to jump through quite a few hurdles to get on the flight back to Melbourne.
"We had to cancel tickets with multiple airlines due to the ongoing ban on international travel in Pakistan which was a huge hassle financially and emotionally.
"I went to Pakistan International Airlines office and had to spend a whole day trying to figure out how to obtain a ticket on the repatriation flight. There was heaps of miscommunication between the Australian High Commission and the national airlines but, looking at the positives, I am glad it all worked out in the end," she said.
The passengers are now spending 14 days in mandatory quarantine before being able to go home.
“It’s only our third day in quarantine. We might start going crazy after a week or ten days," Shuaib Baig said.
"But the relief that we have by being back in Melbourne has helped my work and kids school which outweighs anything else. We are back to a normal routine.”
Naila Ahmad is happy with the facilities provided in quarantine.
“The nurse is checking in on us daily on how we are coping with the situation. It is difficult to keep our little one entertained but we are being provided with toys and other items to keep the kids busy,” she said.
"I haven't slept in three days trying to manage two toddlers and my son who is currently attending school via electronic learning. I am not used to this routine," Dr Iqbal said.
"My friends have been kind, they have sent some food and toys for the kids. Alhamdulillah, we are managing and the kids are getting used to the new routine. It's not an ideal situation but I am looking towards the positives," she further added.
Dr Geoffrey Shaw, Australian High Commissioner to Pakistan announced on Twitter that the only options available for Australians stranded in Pakistan are Qatar Airways flights to Doha from Lahore on 28th, 29th April and from Peshawar on 29th April. There are further connections available from Doha to Sydney, Melbourne and Perth.
The flight ban has been extended in Pakistan till the 15th of May and these might be the only flight options available for the time being.
Repatriation of stranded Pakistanis from Australia
More than 200 Pakistanis were repatriated on the same charter flight that flew back to Lahore on Sunday from Melbourne airport at 1:00pm.
This relief effort was coordinated by the Pakistani High Commission in Canberra along with its consulates in Sydney and Melbourne.
“The returning Pakistanis thanked the Government of Pakistan, Pakistan High Commission and the Consulates General at Melbourne and Sydney for arranging repatriation to their homeland,” a press release by Pakistan High Commission Canberra stated.
However, there were more than 600 people who had initially registered their interest to be repatriated many of whom were not able to make it back home on this flight.
Consul General of Pakistan in Melbourne Sardar Adnan Rashid said that currently there are no further plans of special charter flights to Australia though the government is working around the clock to get more than 50,000 Pakistanis stranded worldwide back home.
“We haven’t received any further information on charter flights but we are in constant touch with the government and will constantly keep the community informed as more information comes through,” Mr Rashid said.
“This is the government’s responsibility to bring stranded people back home but their focus is currently on repatriating people from the UAE as the situation for people is getting worse day by day.
“The government is also planning to work with other international commercial flights which might make it easier for people to return back to Pakistan once the bans are lifted."
The Consul General further stated the people who need to go back urgently register their details with the Pakistani Consulate in Melbourne, Sydney or High Commission in Canberra.
“Registration does not necessarily mean flights will be arranged but it helps with the decision making and consolidation process,” the Consul General further added.
The consulate also stated that they are available to help stranded Pakistanis and requested people follow their websites and social media for up to date information.
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If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080.
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