ISLAMABAD        -            The Ministry of Interior on Thursday ordered repatriation of zaireen (pilgrims) and members of Tableeghi Jamaat, stranded in various parts of the country due to COVID-19 outbreak, to their home towns before the holy month of Ramazan.

In a letter written to Chief Secretaries of all four provinces, Azad Jammu & Kashmir (AJK), and Gilgit Baltistan and Chief Commissioner Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT), the Ministry said that all Deputy Commissioners of the districts concerned should be advised to facilitate repatriation of all stranded tableeghis (preachers) and zaireen in various parts of the country to their home towns.

“Strict disciplinary action should be initiated against those who are in dereliction of their responsibilities,” the letter reads, adding that only those should be sent home who would fulfill the standard operating procedures (SOPs) notified by the health authorities and district administration concerned.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in the country, the Tableeghi Jamaat is in the limelight in Pakistan for organizing its annual religious congregation on March 10 at its Raiwind Markaz in Punjab despite opposition by the provincial government.

According to a police report, approximately 70,000 to 80,000 members of the Jamaat had attended the mass assembly in Raiwind, a town in the suburbs of Lahore. Out of them, 3,000 had arrived from 40 countries, including the US and the UK, where there was already an outbreak of the disease.

Later, hundreds of members of the Jamaat were tested positive for coronavirus and many of them have been quarantined at the Markaz. As of April 20, there were total 4,195 positive cases of coronavirus in Punjab, out of which 1,857 were members of Jamaat and 743 were zaireen, according to a twitter post of Chief Minister Punjab Sardar Usman Buzdar.

The Interior Ministry’s letter said that the repatriation step has been taken in the light of the decision of functional committee of the National Assembly for affectees of COVID-19, headed by Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser.

The Speaker in the April 22 meeting of the committee had directed the Ministry to ensure that federal and provincial governments must repatriate all stranded Tableeghis, zaireen and overseas Pakistanis, who have tested negative or have completed quarantine period, to their homes due to advent of holy month of Ramadan.

Minister of State for SAFRON Shehryar Afridi had told the committee that ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs and all provincial home departments have already effectively steered the process of repatriation of stranded tableeghis and zaireen to their home towns and countries. He had mentioned that there were a few behavioural and other complaints against certain Deputy Commissioners and other officials which must be checked and rectified.

Afridi had briefed the committee that over 10,000 Tableeghis and Zaireen have already been repatriated domestically.