Locked down & running out of food: Pakistani student seeks help amid coronavirus outbreak

Published: January 31, 2020
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KARACHI: Kaiful Wara, from Badin, was a beacon of hope for her parents when she went abroad for her education. Today, though, her parents are in anguish at her predicament.

A third-year medical student in a university near Wuhan — the epicentre for the coronavirus outbreak – in China, Kaiful Wara is in lockdown. All she has eaten in the past three days is yogurt.

In a video message to her parents and the Pakistani government, she said that she was not allowed to leave her room. “We need immediate help,” she pleaded, adding that she didn’t have enough food.

Kaiful Wara is not the only such student trapped in quarantine in China, where at least 170 people had died from the deadly infection by Thursday. Meanwhile, at least 7,700 people have been diagnosed with it, in China and in 18 other countries worldwide. In an attempt to control its spread, Chinese authorities have issued what is said to be the largest quarantine in human history, locking down millions of people.

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Kainat. PHOTO: EXPRESS

A number of those in quarantine are students from across Sindh, who have appealed to the government for help.

“Kaiful Wara is the only girl from our entire family who went outside Pakistan for higher education,” said her father, Bachayo Sheedi, who is a government employee. “We wanted her to receive better education and even though it is a challenge for us to finance it, we still do. But we cannot bear to see the condition she is in,” he wept.

Azeem Pahore’s younger brother, Muhammad Kashif, is also in quarantine in Wuhan. According to Pahore, who is from Matli in Badin district, the major worry confronting Kashif and other Pakistani students with him, such as his roommate from Tando Ghulam Ali, is the shortage of food.

“They don’t have anything to eat and they are not allowed to go outside their rooms. My brother is in trouble and we cannot do anything to help him. We are helpless,” he lamented, asking the government to take action.

Waiting for the govt

At least 15 parents from across Badin district have come to MPA Tanzila Umi Habiba for assistance. She too said that their main concern was the lack of food, adding that they wanted their children back home.

“The federal government must help these students. They should be given food at least,” insisted Habiba. “It’s an emergency and our [state] response is pathetic. We should not leave them to die.”

She added that parents would stop sending their children outside Pakistan if the government continued to delay its response. The MPA said that she had also contacted Sindh Chief Ministed Syed Murad Ali Shah, who assured her he would reach out to the federal government.

Naz Sehto, a veteran journalist based in Hyderabad, too has had a number of parents approach him for help in bringing their children home from China.

“Around 300 students from different cities in Sindh have been studying in China,” he said. “Unfortunately, the government has not even contacted their parents yet. There is no local support for the students, so there is no immediate help the parents can offer their children from here,” he explained.

Meanwhile, Sindh Agriculture Minister Ismail Rahoo stated that around 1,000 Sindhi students and citizens stranded in China should be brought back home.

“The foreign affairs minister is not cooperating with Pakistani students stuck in Wuhan, who are not even being given food and drinks,” he claimed, adding that other countries were taking steps to evacuate their citizens from China.

Facilitating the students

Stressing the gravity of the issue, Senator Sassui Palijo said that she had spoken to officials in Islamabad, including Overseas Committee chairperson Senator Hilalur Rehman.

Later, after discussing the matter with Zulfikar Bukhari, special assistant to the Prime Minister for overseas Pakistanis, Palijo told The Express Tribune that she had been assured that the federal government would certainly help the trapped students.

“He [Bukhari] told me that the foreign office [FO] will facilitate students stuck in China, and asked parents to coordinate with the FO and then his office if they do not receive a response from the FO,” she stated, adding that she had brought up the issue of the food shortage with Bukhari as well.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 31st, 2020.

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