Pakistan and Saudi Arabia on Tuesday discussed how to ease COVID – 19 travel restrictions, which have stranded around 400,000 Pakistani workers back home, foreign ministers of the two countries told reporters.
Islamabad took up the issue with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, who is on a one – day visit to Pakistan.
Al Saud is the first high profile Saudi official to arrive in Pakistan after cracks in their historically friendly relations earlier this year.
His Pakistani counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi told a joint news conference in Islamabad that around 400,000 of over two million Pakistani workers in Saudi Arabia had been stranded at home due to travel restrictions.
‘They are facing challenges, you know the travel restrictions and you know the issues of vaccination’, he said.
Saudi Arabia, which bars direct travel from Pakistan, has only approved the AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines, so anyone arriving without one of those shots is required to quarantine at a cost many Pakistani workers say they cannot afford.
Most Pakistani have received a Chinese vaccine, although Al Saud said his government had given COVID-19 shots to 1.7 million Pakistani workers.
The Pakistani workforce in Saudi Arabia contributes $7 billion, or a quarter of the country’s total annual remittances.
‘We talked about the challenges the COVID-19 has imposed on all of us. It had imposed challenges, travel restrictions, all of these we are working on’, Al Saud said.
Wold – be Pakistani expatraite workers, desperate to obtain a Pfizer/BioNTech or AstraZeneca COVID shot so they can travel to work in Saudi Arabia, have been holding violent protests, at times storming vaccination centers.