Around 6,000 Pakistani students, who returned home from China in the middle of their studies after the Covid-19 outbreak there two years ago, have not been able to resume their studies in the neighbouring country.
After running from pillar to post in their attempt to travel back to China, these students have now asked Prime Minister Imran Khan to intervene so they can resume their studies.
The Covid-19 pandemic had started to emerge in Wuhan, the capital of central China’s Hubei province, in December 2019. A blockade was then imposed and international traffic was suspended to most countries.
Pakistan initially decided not to bring students from China, but the students’ parents and relatives started protests. The students also shared their problems and sufferings on social media.
In January 2020, the students began to return to Pakistan and it was decided that they would be sent back to China in July of that year.
Now Covid-19 has been controlled, but around 6,000 students who have registered at the Pakistani embassy in Beijing could not be returned to China.
Adam Ali, an engineering student enrolled at a Shanghai university, told Dawn that engineering, medical, PhD and other students had returned to Pakistan in January 2020.
“At the time, the Prime Minister’s Special Assistant for Pakistanis Abroad, Zulfiqar Bukhari, had promised that all students would be sent back to China in July 2020. We have been stuck in Pakistan for almost two years, but China it has not announced a policy for Pakistani Students.
“There are several students who have returned to Pakistan, but up to 5,875 students have registered with the Pakistani embassy in China with a request to make arrangements for their return,” he said.
“Our universities in China have informed us that Category X (study) visas were not being issued and that (universities) were waiting for a notification from the Chinese government to issue identification letters. On the other hand, a local company in Pakistan, which collects student passports for visa, is not receiving passports for Category X and says it is prohibited.
“Visas are issued for one year and then a new application must be submitted for a new visa or extension. We learned that South Korea had raised the matter with the Chinese government and a notification was issued for South Korean students due to their arrival in China.
“Since my childhood, I have heard that Pakistan and China are all-weather friends, but unfortunately Pakistani students have been suffering,” said Adam, who hailed from Attock but was in Islamabad on Thursday.
“We have had two meetings with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on October 5 and then again on November 3 this year and he assured us that we would address the issue. But after seeing that no practical steps were being taken to solve our problem, we appealed to Prime Minister Imran Khan to help us and secure our future, “he said.
Gulmeena, a doctoral student, said that “we also met twice with the federal Minister of Education, Shafqat Mahmood, and asked him to address the issue, but to no avail.”
“Two months ago, the students also met with the Special Assistant to the Prime Minister for Youth Affairs, Usman Dar, and he assured us that he will play his role to address the problem. Last week, Dar again promised that that problem will be solved. We are all vaccinated and ready to be quarantined in China, but unfortunately they are not issuing us visas, “he said.
Ali Raza, a medical student, said they also met with Punjab Governor Chaudhry Sarwar, but only received guarantees.
“Medical students were studying online, but now the Pakistan Medical Commission has announced that online classes from medical students will not be accepted as they also involve clinical practice,” he said.
Last week, member of the National Assembly Shahida Akhtar, who belongs to Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam-Fazl, raised the issue on the floor of the house.
Former Punjab Education Minister Rana Mashood, who belongs to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, also spoke on the issue at the provincial assembly.