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Pakistani students stranded in Wuhan

S. Khan Islamabad
February 20, 2020

Pakistani students are demanding their government evacuate them from China's coronavirus epicenter of Wuhan. They accuse Islamabad of betraying them to keep up good ties with Beijing. DW spoke to some of the students.

The deserted streets of Wuhan
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Rataj

The families of Pakistani students stranded in China protested in Islamabad on Thursday, demanding that the government evacuate the students. 

Around 1,300 students are currently in Hubei province, and 800 of these are in Wuhan, the province's capital, and epicenter of the virus, which has been under lockdown for weeks.

The families, and the students, have said they are furious at Pakistan's government for not arranging evacuations from Hubei. Pakistani officials on Thursday said the students are "in safe hands."

A group of Pakistani students studying in Beijing were able to leave China earlier this month, however, those in Wuhan have not been allowed to leave the city. 

Read MoreWhy a coronavirus upsurge could be devastating for South Asia

Some of the students told DW that they are living under the constant fear of catching the virus. Asif Sajjad, a student at Wuhan University, said that many of them are suffering from psychological stress.

"We have been confined to our rooms for weeks. If anyone coughs or sneezes, it sends a shiver down our spines to think the person may have caught the virus," he said.

"There are food shortages, and even if we go out on the balcony, we have to cover our face. We want to know why the government does not bring us back."

The Chinese government said it has taken adequate measures to protect the Pakistani students from catching the virus.

Living in 'constant fear'

However, Syed Tauheed Shah, a student at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, said that the students' rooms have not been disinfected.

"In addition to that we have not been provided with the recommended masks, but only the simple masks," he said, adding that the proximity of hospitals to the campus was also a concern.

"It seems the Pakistani government is not concerned about us at all. Even poor countries like the Maldives have taken out their students but we are still stuck here living in constant fear."

Read moreCoronavirus: How hospitals in China's Wuhan kept the sick away

Other students said they were afraid to speak up due to their scholarships being placed in jeopardy. Thousands of Pakistani students are studying in China on scholarships.

"If they speak up, their scholarship programs will be canceled," said one student under condition of anonymity.

"Many do not want to speak up because they are afraid," said the student, adding that many of them feel "deeply betrayed" by the Pakistani government.

"We are beggars. China massively invested in Pakistan, and now our government wants to sacrifice us to show to China that Islamabad is their friend."

Why hasn't Pakistan picked up the students?

Students are parents say that officials are reluctant to evacuate Pakistanis from China out of solidarity with Beijing. China has invested over €50 billion in development and infrastructure projects in Pakistan.

"Send your doctors, dispatch your specialists and medical staff to China if you really want to show solidarity with Beijing," said Shahid Jadoon, a PhD student in Wuhan.

"China has good relations with a number of states and they pulled out their students and Beijing is not angry."

Pakistan's ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government said the students are being kept in Wuhan for their own safety. 

Read moreHas China-Pakistan Economic Corridor lived up to the hype?

PTI leader and ex-federal minister Ishaq Khakwani told DW that keeping the students in China had nothing to do with showing solidarity with authorities in Beijing.

"The government has made this decision for the sake of the students' welfare. China has better technology and scientific means to deal with this situation," said Khakwani, adding that if infected students return to Pakistan, it might unleash an outbreak that would be difficult to contain.

"I would ask the parents and students to calm down and stay in China where they are much safer. The Chinese government is looking after them."

Pakistan's government claims it has taken effective measures to deal with possible coronavirus cases.

Government health adviser Zafar Mirza claims that there has not been even a single confirmed case of coronavirus so far in Pakistan.

Sources at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences, Islamabad's largest hospital, told DW that an isolation ward has been set up where more than 40 Chinese and Pakistanis returning from China were temporarily kept but all tested negative for COVID-19.

An isolation ward at a Karachi hospital
An isolation ward at a Karachi hospitalImage: Reuters/A. Soomro
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