LONDON: Thousands of British Pakistanis are in limbo due to a ban on travel imposed by the Pakistan government after a new variant of COVID-19 spread in Britain.
Pakistan followed Europe, India and some Gulf countries to slap a ban on flights from the United Kingdom and since then thousands of British Pakistanis have been in a state of confusion, waiting for the restrictions to be lifted or eased.
A majority of the 40 countries which imposed travel restrictions for the UK have since allowed their own nationals to travel.
On Monday night, a flight of 371 seats from Manchester to Islamabad carried only one passenger from Sialkot, who was accompanying a body.
The ban in question by the Government of Pakistan came into effect on December 21 for arrivals from UK. This ban was to last until December 29 but on December 28, it was further extended until January 4.
The UK is home to the largest Pakistan expatriates in Europe. The ban has prevented a large number of British Pakistanis from visiting their home country during the winter holidays.
Pakistan has banned all dual nationals and Pakistanis living in the UK under settled status or work permits holding Pakistani Passports from travelling to the country. It has only allowed those on visit/business visas to travel to Pakistan from the UK.
The biggest concern Pakistanis have is that various airlines are charging extra for rescheduling of the flights or offering e-vouchers which can be redeemed only to rebook on the same carrier within the next two years.
There were instances where several Pakistanis travelled from London and elsewhere to Heathrow and other airports with confirmed tickets but the flights were then cancelled. In other cases the passengers were not allowed on board.
There is a common complaint that the people allowed to travel to Pakistan, who were in the UK either on visit or business visa, pose a similar threat of carrying the new variant as any other British Pakistani seeking to visit the country.
They question why the Pakistani approach cannot be in line with the European governments who are allowing their nationals to travel back with a pre-departure negative coronavirus test.
Travellers share accounts
Naveed Hussain, who works as a barber in London booked his tickets to Pakistan in August 2020 to visit his ailing mother and family. He was scheduled to fly out on Boxing Day. His travel plans were interrupted due to the ban imposed by the Pakistan government. He has since changed his ticket twice and paid extra charges each time.
Syed Sajid Naqvi reached Heathrow Airport on Monday with his family members to catch a flight to Islamabad but the flight was cancelled at the last minute, leaving around 75 passengers in the lurch.
He shared videos of his experience with Geo News and explained that cancellation of the flight and the fact that he will have to travel back home to east London on public transport meant that the whole family would be exposed to the risk from the virus.
Sheikh Iftikhar, a businessman from Gujranwala, came to London in the first week of December and has been unable to travel to Washington from here.
He said: “I have been trying since December 25 to catch a flight to Islamabad but I was stopped from getting on the plane. I was told that I need to have a Covid negative test. I got that done and went again on the 27th but there was no flight. I have spent nearly £1000 extra just because of the delays and I just can’t wait to be back with my family. It’s a nightmare for me.”