Over 2,000 Pakistanis stranded in Jeddah as PIA strike continues

Islamabad, Feb 7: The Pakistan Intertiol Airlines (PIA) employees’ strike and the suspension of flight operations continued for the sixth day on Saturday, affecting PIA passengers at home and abroad. Over 2,000 Pakistanis were stranded in Jeddah due to the suspension of flights, and neither the government nor PIA itself has approached them since lodging them at a local hotel in the city, Dawn online reported. Many of these passengers were particularly worried because their visas expire in two days’ time.

“We fear that the Saudi police will arrest us on charges of visa expiry, as most people’s visas will expire in a week, or three or four days,” Usman Qureshi, a Pakistani stranded in Jeddah, said over phone. He said he has been stranded in Jeddah for three days, and has not heard a response from PIA officials or the Pakistan embassy in Saudi Arabia.

“My flight, PK-7135, was scheduled to leave Jeddah on February 4, but flight operations were suspended. PIA brought me and my family, and 160 others, to a local hotel where 500 Pakistanis were already staying. Food is served three times a day, but people have to sleep in the hotel lounge because the rooms are limited,” he said.

Qureshi said they have received no information regarding the next flight, and PIA officials have not come to the hotel or tried to contact the passengers in Jeddah. “The PIA officials took our tickets and passports, so it’s difficult for us to arrange tickets on other airlines to come back home,” said Mohammad Adn, who too is stranded in Jeddah.

He said it was also difficult to leave the hotel, as people could be arrested by local police for not carrying their passports. He said most people were concerned about their security in the absence of their passports. PIA spokesperson Daniyal Gilani confirmed that over 2,500 Pakistanis who travelled to Saudi Arabia for Umrah were in Jeddah. He said the airline has made arrangements to fly them back home on Saudi Airlines. “We brought back 700 Pakistanis, and the remaining people will be brought back in a day or two. We provided them food and residence free of cost,” he said.

Gilani said there were limited officials in Saudi Arabia, and it would be difficult for the officials that are there to meet with the passengers. However, he added that efforts are being made to resolve their problems. This is a difficult time for the airline, as flight operations are suspended and the government is trying to resolve the problems facing intertiol and domestic passengers. The airline has suffered fincial losses during this period, the spokesman said. (IANS)

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