Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Friday said around 1,600 Pakistanis stranded abroad had returned to homeland amid the Coronavirus situation, while efforts were afoot to bring back 36,000 to 40,000 expatriates.

“Expatriate Pakistanis are the backbone of our economy and we cannot leave them alone in this difficult time,” the foreign minister said in a video message addressed to the overseas Pakistanis.

Foreign Minister Qureshi said it was duty of the government to ensure the safe return of expatriates in the ongoing situation.

He mentioned that as the government took a tough decision to suspend flight operation, a large number of Pakistanis got stranded at airports of Dubai, Doha, Istanbul, Tashkent, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur in addition to other tourists, students, religious groups from Pakistan.

He said the government was concerned about the workforce in Gulf countries which lost jobs due to lockdown.

“The government is fully cognisant of the problems faced by our overseas Pakistanis and the committee set up by the Prime Minister under my chairmanship is making efforts in consultation with representatives of aviation, national security, National Disaster Management Authority and National Institute of Health to overcome this challenge,” he said.

He mentioned that the committee had carefully prepared proposals for return of overseas Pakistanis in a coordinated manner.

However, he regretted that due to non-cooperation of the provincial governments, the timely return of stranded Pakistanis faced delay.

“It is thus my strongest appeal to the provincial governments to cooperate with the Foreign Office and the federal government in best national interest and rise above their political differences in this hour,” he said.

The foreign minister said directives were issued to missions abroad to deal with the extraordinary situation.

Qureshi said the Covid-19 pandemic was the biggest challenge after second world war which had affected the globe including Pakistan.

He mentioned that the virus affected 1.4 million worldwide with 88,000 deaths.

He said under the guidance of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the entire nation stood steadfast to fight the challenge at individual, collective, national and provincial levels.

The foreign minister acknowledged the contribution of doctors, nurses and the people linked with medical sector who worked as frontline warriors in this crisis.