Saudi Arabia urged to facilitate return of 400,000 Pakistani workers

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Pakistan on Tuesday requested Saudi Arabia to take steps to facilitate the return of its workers who have been stuck in the country due to Covid-19 restrictions imposed by Riyadh.

The issue was flagged both by Prime Minister Imran Khan and Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi in their separate meetings with visiting Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud.

The Saudi top diplomat visited Pakistan as a follow-up of the visit undertaken by PM Imran to Riyadh in May this year.

Apart from other issues, one of the agenda items of the discussions during the Saudi foreign minister’s interaction with the Pakistani leadership was to seek the early return of Pakistani workers to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabia is home to almost 2 million Pakistanis working in different fields. However, due to the Covid-19 pandemic many Pakistanis returned to the country but since then they are unable to go back to the kingdom due to travel restrictions.

FM Qureshi told a joint news conference with his Saudi counterpart that there were about 400,000 Pakistanis who had been waiting for the travel restrictions to be eased so that they could resume their work in the kingdom.

“Noting the difficulties being faced by Pakistani nationals due to Covid-related travel restrictions, the prime minister underlined the importance of timely measures for facilitation of their return to Saudi Arabia,” an official statement issued by the PM Office after the premier’s meeting with the Saudi foreign minister said.

The tens of thousands of Pakistanis working in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries have been the source of precious foreign exchange.

Last year overseas Pakistanis sent record remittances, much to the relief of government desperately looking for foreign exchange reserves.

Qureshi at the news conference also talked about Saudi Arabia importing Pakistani manpower for Saudi Arabia’s 2030 vision.

The latest visit is a sign of easing frictions between the two traditional allies. The two countries have had struggled to overcome differences on certain issues.

Riyadh was reluctant to back Islamabad on the longstanding Kashmir dispute after New Delhi revoked the specials status of Indian Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK) while Pakistan was wary of Saudi Arabia policies on the Yemen war as well as Israel.

But the visit by Premier Imran in May to the kingdom broke the ice and the ties appear to be back on track.

This was reflected in the joint news conference where the Saudi foreign minister highlighted the importance kingdom attaches to its ties with Pakistan.

Prince Faisal said the primary objective of his visit was to follow up on the visit of PM Imran where the two countries activated the high-level Saudi-Pakistan Supreme Coordination Council.

Qureshi said the two countries appointed focal persons for the council that according to him would give new impetus to the ties between the two countries.

FM Qureshi thanked his Saudi counterpart for what he said Riyadh’s unwavering support to Pakistan on the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) issue. He also said he briefed the Saudi foreign minister about the current situation in IIOJK, Afghanistan and other security challenges in the region.

The Saudi foreign minister underlined the need for resolution of all issues through dialogue and insisted that peace and stability in the region was a prerequisite for economic and trade cooperation not just between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia but among other regional countries.

The official statement said the prime minister fondly recalled his visit to Saudi Arabia in May 2021.

In line with the decisions taken on the occasion, PM Imran highlighted the assiduous follow-up and stressed the need for exploring new avenues of cooperation to further deepen bilateral relations in diverse fields.

The premier particularly emphasised the need for strengthening the economic dimension of the relationship and taking steps for realising the vast possibilities in the trade, investment and energy fields.

PM Imran appreciated the work related to the activation of the SPSCC, which is the highest level platform designed to impart strategic direction to the development of Pakistan-Saudi Arabia relations.

He also lauded the important role of Pakistan’s community in Saudi Arabia for the development of the two countries.

He underlined that the strong people-to-people linkages helped to build solid foundations of bilateral cooperation.

The prime minister thanked Saudi Arabia for administering Covid-19 vaccines to Pakistanis living in the kingdom.

The coronavirus situation in the two countries and in South Asia was also discussed during the meeting.

On the situation in Afghanistan, the prime minister underscored the need for constructive engagement among the Afghan parties for securing a negotiated political settlement, which was critically important for peace and stability in the region.

Thanking the prime minister for the warm welcome accorded to the Saudi delegation, Prince Faisal underscored the importance that Saudi Arabia attaches to its strong relationship with Pakistan, based on bonds of brotherhood.

He reaffirmed the resolve to take all possible measures to further strengthen the bilateral relationship under the strategic direction set by Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman and PM Imran.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy close fraternal relations, marked by close cooperation and mutual support.

Saudi Arabia is a member of the OIC Contact Group on Jammu & Kashmir and steadfastly supports the Kashmir cause.

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