Pak parents of students in Wuhan sent ultimatum to govt

Pakistani parents want children back from virus-struck Wuhan within 3 days; serves ultimatum to government

Parents and relatives of Pakistani students in the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus began, hold placards during a protest to demand Pakistan's government the evacuation of their loved ones in Islamabad. (AFP Photo)

Angry parents of hundreds of Pakistani students stuck in China's coronavirus-hit Hubei province have served a three-day ultimatum to the government to evacuate their children as they confronted senior officials for being insensitive to their plight, according to media reports on Thursday.

"You cannot understand our plight because this is a matter concerning our children, not yours," one of the parents shouted at Prime Minister's Special Advisers on Health and Overseas Pakistanis, Dr Zafar Mirza and Syed Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari, as they held a briefing session here for the parents of children studying in Hubei province on the orders of the Islamabad High Court.

Many students and their families have expressed growing frustration as the death toll in China mounted, pointing to other countries, including neighbouring India and Bangladesh, evacuating their citizens from Wuhan city and Hubei province, The Express Tribune reported.

The government led by Prime Minister Imran Khan has so far ruled out bringing home the more than 1,000 students in Hubei province and its capital Wuhan, where three-quarters of the more than 2,000 deaths from the outbreak of the flu-like virus had been recorded, it noted.

"I can predict that two months from now, you will be holding a ceremony in this very auditorium to dole out compensation cheques to us for the martyrdom of our children,” said another parent.

On Thursday Prime Minister Khan held a telephonic talk with Chinese President Xi Jinping and reiterated that the government of Pakistan firmly stands behind Beijing in its efforts to eliminate the coronavirus, an official statement said.

Imran also lauded China's resolve and the special measures the country took to look after the Pakistani nationals. He also expressed his confidence in the Chinese leadership who will "continue to take the best possible measures for the welfare of our nationals and students in China", according to the statement.

Xi assured Khan that his country was taking swift, effective, and timely measures to battle the outbreak, adding that they will win the war against the virus, the statement quoted the Chinese president as telling the Pakistani prime minister.

The death toll due to the coronavirus outbreak in China hit 2,118 on Thursday as 114 more people died, but health officials reported the lowest number of new cases there in nearly a month, including in the hardest-hit province, Hubei.

At the briefing held in Islamabad on Wednesday, there was absolute mayhem in the auditorium, so much so that members of law enforcement agencies had to shield the two advisers from being attacked by anxious parents, The News reported.

Later, the agitated parents blocked Margalla Road, causing traffic snags.

"If you fail to get our children repatriated within the next three days, we will hold demonstrations in front of your ministerial offices and the Embassy of China," the worried parents warned the Prime Minister's aides.

"It is very convenient for Dr Zafar to appear on television and state that the government is acting in the larger interest of the country and the world; we are only concerned about the welfare of our children," one parent said, apparently alluding to the government's decision not to annoy China, its all-weather friend, during the coronavirus crisis by evacuating the stranded students.

The briefing for the relatives of Pakistanis who are stranded in China was arranged on directions from the Islamabad High Court to take them into confidence on why the government decided not to evacuate them, Dawn News reported.

A representative from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed the parents that two representatives of the Pakistani embassy in Beijing have gone to Wuhan to reassure the students.

But the parents accused the government of being completely dispassionate and lacking empathy about their plight.

Addressing the parents, Dr Mirza claimed having complete knowledge of their angst, and pledged to raise the matter in the next Cabinet meeting.

"No matter how effective a strategy we devise, when it comes to one's children, it is natural for you to want them to return sooner than later," he admitted.

"You are justified in rejecting our statements; we also know that no matter how hard we try we will not be able to appease your concerns. While your reservations are justified to some extent, you also need to keep an eye on the bigger picture. We are just as concerned about your children as we are about the entire nation," he added. 

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