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Hundreds of Pakistanis repatriated from the Gulf tested positive for COVID-19

Hundreds of Pakistanis working in the Middle East were tested positive for coronavirus upon their return. Pakistan has so far brought about 20,000 nationals home, among them a large number of unskilled workers who had been laboring in Gulf nations only to see their jobs disappear as lockdowns slowed economic activity.

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Hundreds of Pakistanis who were repatriated from the Middle East — where many lost jobs amid coronavirus shutdowns and were living in cramped conditions — have tested positive for COVID-19, officials said Friday.

Pakistan has so far brought about 20,000 nationals home, among them a large number of unskilled workers who had been laboring in Gulf nations only to see their jobs disappear as lockdowns slowed economic activity.

Of the 2,069 Pakistanis returning from the Middle East to the southern province of Sindh, more than 500 tested positive for the coronavirus, Murad Ali Shah, Sindh’s chief minister, told a press conference.

Read more: COVID-19 crisis: At least 22,000 Pakistanis jobless abroad

And in the northwestern province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, a senior government official told AFP that more than 200 of the 1,600 passengers repatriated to the city of Peshawar had tested positive.

According to the foreign office, about 4.5 million Pakistanis work in the Middle East.

In addition to the 20,000 who have already come back, around 110,000 more overseas Pakistanis have registered a desire to return home.

Pakistan has been chartering flights to bring back stranded nationals, as commercial flights into the country have been halted.

Labourers in many Gulf nations live in crowded dormitories or work camps where social distancing is impossible.

During a briefing Thursday, Moeed Yusuf, the prime minister’s special assistant on national security, said that on some flights as many as half the passengers were infected.

“Our ministry of foreign affairs has raised this issue with those countries and we are finding ways so it should not happen again,” he said.

Citing economic pressures, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday announced the easing of a nationwide lockdown, sparking fears coronavirus cases may increase dramatically.

Read more: Covid-19: Keep this in mind before easing the lockdown

More than 26,000 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed so far, with the death toll at a relatively low 600 or so in the nation of about 215 million people.

Pakistani’s workers in the Gulf

Over the past three decades, Pakistan has been a major labour-sending country to the Middle East with an estimated 1.9 million Pakistanis working in the region by 2004. While
there have been significant annual fluctuations over the period, Pakistan has in recent years
seen an annual migratory out-flow of more than 150’000 workers to different countries in
the Middle East, but primarily to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

There are a number of important dimensions of labour migration from Pakistan to the Gulf
region. First, there has been little, if any change in the skill composition of Pakistani
workers leaving for the Middle East in the 30 year period.

Second, recent data shows that more than 60% of migrating Pakistanis originate from only 20 of the country’s 110 districts. Third, the majority of migrants obtain their foreign employment contract either through private Overseas Employment Promoters (OEPs) or obtain a direct visa.

Read more: Pakistani & other foreign workers to lose jobs in Gulf

Fourth, labour migration from Pakistan to the Middle East is almost exclusively male, and finally, although migration to Malaysia and Korea has recently started on a limited scale, Pakistan still depends heavily on the Middle Eastern market to absorb its migrant workers.

The Government of Pakistan has developed various institutions and rules to govern and
regulate the labour recruitment process.

The official cost of recruitment remains very low. Yet this study reveals that some problems still prevail at various stages of the process.

Drawing on several data sources, including a review of existing literature, migration data
from secondary sources, and primary surveys of return migrants, prospective migrants and
overseas employment promoters, this report presents findings on labour recruitment and
migration from Pakistan to the Middle East.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk

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