Chandigarh: The Indian High Commission based in Islamabad has told stranded Indians in Pakistan to prepare for their return on June 23.
As many as 693 Indians, mostly from Punjab, are said to be stuck there since the closure of borders due to the lockdown in March. It includes families from Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir.
The high commission shared this information with stranded citizens through e-mails on Friday evening. A high commission official too confirmed the development when The Wire reached out to him.
This has come is a big relief for them. The Wire’s June 6 report had narrated the painful ordeal of these stranded citizens, mostly aged, in the neighbouring country.
An elderly man, Santokh Singh from Alal village in Sangrur district, who has been stuck in Lahore for the last three months shared in a video message that he had almost exhausted his money and his medicines were finished too.
Most of them had gone there to attend weddings or for pilgrimages but could not return.
Even though the Centre launched the Vande Bharat Mission to bring back Indians stranded in foreign shores as early as May 7 and has brought back thousands through Air India flights since then, it appeared the evacuation of citizens stuck in Pakistan was not prioritised before media reports highlighted their plight.
Union Minister of Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri in a tweet two days ago informed that 1.7 lakh citizens have returned to India through different modes of transport in one of the world’s largest repatriation drives. This does not include those stranded in Pakistan.
Amritsar-based businessman Kamaldeep Singh, whose parents and three other relatives are stranded in Lahore since mid-March, said that her sister who stays in Dubai had applied for return to India.
“She received e-mail communication from Indian High Commission in Islamabad on Friday evening in which it has been mentioned that they should be prepared for return through Wagah-Attari border on June 23,” he said.
The Wagah-Attari border is the international border running between India and Pakistan.
E-mail communication, as assessed by The Wire, also mentioned that Indian High commission has already requested the Pakistan foreign ministry to open the border on the said date.
“Passengers returning to India will also undergo 14-day quarantine,” it further stated.
When contacted, Satbir Singh, Kuldeep’s 60-year-old father, told The Wire from Lahore that he was very happy to know that they will finally reach home on June 23.
He said that the distance between Lahore and Amritsar is not more than 50 km, yet three months on, he and his family has not been able to return.
Satbir said that he came here with his wife Jasmeet Kaur, cousin Harjit Singh, Harjit’s wife Narinder Kaur, and Satbir’s sister-in-law Manvinder Kaur on March 10 for a wedding. They also visited the Kartarpur Sahib, Nankana Sahib and Panja Sahib gurdwaras.
“We were expecting to come back before March 30. But a week before our return, the Indian government imposed the lockdown,” he said
Satbir is currently staying with relatives in Lahore.
“I am a heart patient. I did not have sufficient stock of medicines and had a tough time arranging for them,” he said
NORI visa holders
Sources said that permission so far has been given for the return of Indian citizens but those who went to Pakistan on NORI visas will have to wait longer.
No Objection to Return to India (NORI) is visa that is given mostly to Pakistanis/Bangladeshi citizens staying in India for a long time.
The Wire reached to a Sikh family in Delhi’s Tilak Nagar, who had gone to Peshawar subdivision in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan on a 90-day NORI visa in the first week of March for the wedding of their two sons with local Peshawari girls.
Twenty six-year-old Jugjeet Singh told The Wire over phone from Peshawar, “Twenty six members of our family, including children and aged people, were to arrive here. Before we could return to India as a newly married couple, lockdown was imposed in March.”
Singh said that he has been running pillar to post to return to India but there is no confirmation from the Indian High commission.
“We settled in India about a decade ago as my mother Lal Kaur’s sister lived here. Looking for a better life, we finally decided to permanently shift in Delhi,” he said.
“I visited the Indian High commission in Islamabad where they asked me to approach the Ministry of Home Affairs for permission. When I sent my cousin there, we were told that only high commission is authorised to deal with it. We don’t know whom to approach now,” he added.
Jugjeet’s brother, Raghbeer, told The Wire that staying in Pakistan has been getting financially difficult as well.
“I appeal to the Indian High Commission, Islamabad, besides Prime Minister Narendra Modi, home minister Amit Shah, external affairs minister S. Jaishankar and Punjab chief minister Captain Amarinder Singh to consider our case on priority and call us back to India,” he said.