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Pakistan refused to accept flight carrying nearly three dozen deportees from UK

A plane can be seen taking off. — AFP/Files

LONDON: Pakistan refused to accept a chartered flight carrying around three dozen deportees from London to Islamabad around three weeks ago, it has emerged.

An October 20 flight carrying deportees from the UK was not given clearance to land at the last minute by the Pakistan government and UK authorities were left with no choice but to return the deportees to detention centres in the UK.

The refusal came in the wake of an attempt by the Pakistan government to persuade the UK government to repatriate Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan. However, Pakistani officials have denied that the refusal was tied to the matter and instead cited noncompliance with COVID-19 protocols for incoming flights.

A letter addressed to UK Home Secretary Priti Patel had been handed over in the first week of October 2020 to the British High Commissioner in Islamabad. Patel was told that she is “duty-bound” to deport Nawaz Sharif to Pakistan.

A source in the UK government told this reporter that Pakistan government officials cancelled the flight to send a message to London.

However, while Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Advisor on Interior and Accountability Shahzad Akbar confirmed that the flight was not given clearance to land, he strongly denied that this had anything to do with Nawaz Sharif’s repatriation.

Akbar said deportee flights will be allowed “after confirmation of documentations and following due protocols”.

“We are seeking the deportation of Mian Nawaz Sharif on principle, but this is not linked to any other bilateral working between the two countries,” he added.

Another minister from PM Imran Khan’s cabinet, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the flight from London to Islamabad was not given clearance because it had not complied with coronavirus safety standard operating procedures.

A third source linked with the government said the flight was stopped because the UK government had not obtained coronavirus tests for deportees. He said the UK government should have arranged the tests prior to preparing the flight.

The third source did not clarify what the procedures were and why similar flights were allowed to land in Pakistan in similar circumstances without any issues — even after the implementation of mandatory COVID test rules for flights landing in Pakistan.

A source in the UK government, however, said the complaint about COVID-19 tests was not true.

The UK government has been returning illegal immigrants to Pakistan under the EU Readmission Agreement (Eura). The agreement was signed during the last PPP government and further strengthened during the last PMLN government under Chaudhary Nisar as the interior minister of Pakistan.

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