New Delhi: on March 19, dozens of Kashmiri students studying in Pakistani Universities set out towards the Attari-Wagah Border. The students were asked to vacate the university hostels after Pakistan enforced a national lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. The hostels will remain closed until May 31 and the students were bound for Kashmir, when the Pakistani authorities refused to let students cross the border.
The Wire spoke to families of these Kashmiri students, who revealed that their children have been told that they would only be allowed to cross from the Pakistani side to the Indian side if Indian authorities inform Pakistan that they will receive the students. For two full days, they were stranded at the border without receiving any information from the Indian authorities.
The students then decided to travel to Lahore, where they are seeking accommodation in hotels. Family members of the students that The Wire spoke to said that at a time when almost no country remains untouched from the virus, the Indian government should have made more efforts to ensure their passage. They said if the government and the IAF ensured that citizens stranded in various parts of the world are airlifted, the safe passage of students at the Wagah border could easily have been granted.
Kulsum, who lives in Kupwara area of Kashmir, said her nephew is stuck in Pakistan. “Furqaan is pursuing an MBBS degree there. He called me to tell me that the authorities did not let them leave Pakistan because they did not have information from the Indian side about receiving these students,” she said.
Another student, Wajid Nazir, was also stranded at the Wagah Border, his father said. “The students were waiting at the border since the early hours of March 19. They did not have any clarity, except the fact that Pakistan has shut its borders and they are stuck there without any help. Indian authorities had stopped a group on March 18 as well; they were stuck there for 10 hours,” he said. Nazir informed his father that the Pakistani authorities repeatedly said there was no communication from India about their “release” and refused to let them cross.
As of Wednesday, Pakistan has reported 1,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. Seven people have died in the country as a result of the disease.
Asma Rashid, a student from Humhama in Srinagar, is studying in Karachi’s Fatima Jinnah Medical University. Rashid was also stuck at the border. Asma’s father said, “Asma travelled from Karachi to Lahore to Wagah to cross and come to Kashmir, but did not have any information about if or and when the students will be allowed to cross the border.”
Saima Farooq is a student from Baramullah studying in Karachi’s Ali Mohammed Jinnah University. Her brother Feroze Ahmed Lone, said Saima and other Kashmiri students studying in Pakistan are in a state of panic. “The students were perplexed about why the authorities treated them this way. We understand that the coronavirus is an issue, but the plight of these students needs urgent attention,” he said.
Najeeb Fazili said his daughter Abeer Fazili was stuck at the Attari Border, where there was utter confusion. “The Indian government should’ve seen them as students vulnerable to the spreading virus and ensured their passage to their homes,” he said.