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Thousands of Pakistanis in UAE seek to return home amid coronavirus pandemic

More than a million Pakistanis live and work in the UAE, but as businesses close due to Covid-19, as many 20,000 want to go home
Emirates and Etihad airlines said they were resuming some outbound-only services for those wishing to leave the UAE, but neither airline has announced flights to Pakistan (AFP/File photo)

More than 20,000 Pakistani nationals stuck in the United Arab Emirates have requested permission to fly home despite a suspension of most passenger flights out of the country due to the spread of the novel coronavirus

The requests were registered with the Pakistani consulate between 3 and 6 April, a consulate spokesman told Reuters on Monday. 

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Pakistani authorities have said they are in talks with their UAE counterparts to try to arrange flights so that the Pakistanis could return home soon, the spokesman said. 

Still, hundreds of Pakistanis gathered outside the consulate on Sunday demanding to be sent home despite the emirate-wide lockdown, Dubai’s Gulf News newspaper reported on Monday. 

The consulate spokesman disputed the figure and said police had dispersed the group as they were in breach of the lockdown.

The UAE suspended all passenger flights last month, but both Emirates and Etihad airlines were issued approvals on Thursday for limited flights to repatriate stranded foreigners.

The airlines said they were resuming some outbound-only services to limited destinations for those wishing to leave the UAE, but neither airline has announced flights to Pakistan.

Loss of income

Like in many countries, much of the UAE's workforce has been on lockdown as a result of measures aimed at stopping the spread of the virus that is officially known as Covid-19. But these measures have left many foreign workers stranded without income. 

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Pakistan is a big labour supplier to the UAE, with more than a million Pakistanis living and working in the country.

Those who have registered for flights home include some whose visas had expired, who had lost their jobs or had stopped being paid by their employers, the spokesman said. 

The UAE has gradually increased restrictions in the country, including imposing a nationwide curfew, suspending passenger flights and putting Dubai in a lockdown. 

A densely populated Dubai neighbourhood where many South Asian blue-collar workers live has been sealed off since 31 March, and there has been door-to-door coronavirus testing in some parts of the emirate.

On Monday, the UAE reported 277 new coronavirus cases, its biggest daily jump, and one new death. In total it has recorded 2,076 coronavirus cases and 11 deaths.