ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has directed the federal government to appoint a focal person to facilitate the parents whose children are stranded in coronavirus-hit China.
The court also ordered the foreign ministry officials to take urgent steps and devise a mechanism for providing parents updates about their children till next Friday.
Chief Justice Athar Minallah heard a plea seeking return of Pakistani students and citizens stranded in virus-hit China.
Health Secretary Dr Allah Baksh Malik and Foreign Affairs Director General (China) Mudassir Tipu appeared before the court.
Justice Minallah remarked that the students have approached this court directly. “The students in China are severely depressed.”
The Foreign Office officials told the court that a joint working group has been formed in collaboration with China. “All complaints are being addressed.”
Justice Minallah remarked, “Is not it odd that the rest of the countries are evacuating their citizens and we are not. Are those countries taking a risk or aren’t we capable enough?”
The Foreign Affairs DG told the court that it is the Chinese government’s advice that evacuating citizens would be a risk.
Justice Minallah remarked, “The students whose emails have been received are not infected by the virus. They are asking would they be stuck there till April.”
The CJ added that the court won’t interfere in state policy, but at least the government should console the families of the Pakistanis stuck in China.
The Foreign Office officials said, “Two diplomats have been sent to Wuhan – the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak. They will stay there. Around 100 people infected by the coronavirus are dying every day. Several people are being infected by the virus. The number of people infected by the virus has reached 64,000.”
Justice Minallah said, “The Pakistani government is well aware of the sensitivity of the situation. The government has to keep 200 million Pakistanis safe.”
The parents of the children stranded in China, present in the courtroom, said, “Is the government waiting for our children to die? The universities have told our children that they are free to leave. The Chinese officials have told our children that the government doesn’t want to call them back.”
They demanded that their children be brought back just like other countries were evacuating their citizens from China.
Tipu said that the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Chinese government are not granting permission to anyone to leave Wuhan.
“Nobody can move from Wuhan. International flights from there are also closed. We have sent our diplomats through flights which will land in a nearby city. From there they would reach Wuhan by road within eight to 10 hours.”
Justice Minallah said, “Devise such a mechanism so that the parents of children can remain in contact with you [Foreign Affairs DG].”
The chief justice directed the Foreign Office officials to arrange a meeting of the parents with special assistant to the prime minister on overseas Pakistanis.
The FO officials suggested that they would devise a mechanism under which every morning at 11 the government officials would give updates to the parents about their children.
The chief justice said that the parents would face difficulties in entering the Foreign Office. “Select a place which is easily accessible.”
Observing that things are not organised and there is a gap that needs to be dealt with, the chief justice said the government should appoint a focal person.
The proceedings were adjourned until Feb 21.