15,000 Pakistani pilgrims airlifted from Saudi Arabia

15,000 Pakistani pilgrims airlifted from Saudi Arabia
Pakistani Hajj pilgrims queued to embark onto a bus at The Hajj Complex in Islamabad on August 23, 2016, before leaving for the annual Hajj pilgrimage to the Islamic holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. (AFP)
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Updated 23 March 2020

15,000 Pakistani pilgrims airlifted from Saudi Arabia

15,000 Pakistani pilgrims airlifted from Saudi Arabia
  • 300 Pakistani pilgrims remain in the kingdom, are set to return Tuesday 
  • Saudi aviation authorities granted exception to Pakistanis amid complete air travel suspension

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has repatriated 15,000 nationals who went to Saudi Arabia for Umrah and found themselves stranded amid coronavirus outbreak movement restrictions in the kingdom, the Pakistani ambassador to Riyadh told Arab News on Monday.

“When the government of Saudi Arabia stopped flights to Pakistan due to coronavirus pandemic on March 15, there were more than 15,000 Pakistani Umrah pilgrims who were stranded in Jeddah and Medina. We have succeeded in repatriating over 15,000 pilgrims through special flights of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and Saudi airlines,” Ambassador Raja Ali Ejaz said by phone.

He added that now only 300 Pakistani pilgrims remain in the kingdom and are set to return soon.

Saudi Arabia has halted all international flights and suspended the Umrah pilgrimage in response to coronavirus pandemic.

“We are looking after the needs of all the pilgrims left in Saudi Arabia. We are arranging special flights of PIA for these pilgrims. We are very hopeful to finalize their return by Tuesday,” Ejaz said and expressed gratitude to the Saudi aviation authorities which granted a special permission for the Pakistani pilgrims to leave the kingdom.

The pilgrims are taken care of by the Pakistani Consulate General in Jeddah in coordination with their respective travel agents, he added.

The ambassador said he personally spoke to the president of the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) of Saudi Arabia to facilitate the departure clearance of the stranded pilgrims.

“I talked to the president of GACA to get permission for special flights for the return of Pakistani pilgrims after suspension of flight operations by Saudi authorities. He assured all cooperation for repatriation of all the Pakistani pilgrims and granted special permission to PIA and Saudi airlines to operate their flights after March 15. This was a big favor for us by Saudi authorities,” Ejaz said.

Haroon Akram, a Pakistani pilgrim who returned to Rawalpindi on a special flight on Friday, thanked both Pakistani and Saudi authorities for facilitating his return.

“I was in Saudi Arabia with my wife to perform Umrah. Our regular return flight was with PIA on March 28 but we have been asked to leave early. We waited in Jeddah for four days during which our embassy officials remained in touch with us and took good care of our needs,” he said.

“We are grateful to both Pakistani and Saudi authorities for arranging the special flight to bring us back home,” he told Arab News.