At least 6,000 Pakistanis are stranded in Libya for the past several months, while Islamabad and Tripoli are aiming at good economic ties and investment opportunities.
Post-Gaddafi, the situation in Libya has worsened, forcing expatriates to return to their home countries. The Pakistan government has been making hectic effort to provide relief to the affected Pakistanis in Libya, especially, those detained in jails.
Reportedly, the first group of Pakistanis came back two and a half year back via Tunisia.
“The number of Pakistanis in the relief camps set up by Pakistan Embassy in Tripoli is around 2000. Special flights have been arranged to carry them to Pakistan,” Tasnim Aslam Khan, spokesperson of Pakistani Foreign Office tells The News on Sunday. “Many Pakistanis are in bad condition, they have lost everything and cannot afford to buy a ticket to return home. The government’s special flights are bringing them back free of cost.”
Over 1,500 Pakistanis were evacuated by land routes through neighbouring countries after the security situation in Libya deteriorated sharply and many essential services became dysfunctional.
Currently, according to official figures of Pakistani Embassy in Tripoli, around 18,000 Pakistanis are residing in Libya. Out of these, 10,000 to 12,000 are those that left Pakistan, settled there in 1970s and are unlikely to evacuate. Approximately 3,000 to 6,000 Pakistanis are likely to return to Pakistan due to the deteriorating security situation in Libya. So far, 3,250 Pakistanis have contacted the Embassy and have showed their willingness to fly to Pakistan. The Embassy is recommending the expats to cross over the Tunisian border, however, and those stranded in Benghazi are told to proceed through the Egyptian border.
“A large number of Pakistani settlers in Libya are staying on. They are not keen to return. Only vulnerable Pakistanis facing environmental difficulties are temporarily moving out, duly facilitated by the government,” the foreign office spokesperson maintains.
“I went to Libya in 1983. I started work at a junior level and in the last 30 years, I have managed to make a better living for my family,” says 55-year-old Akhtar Haroon, adding, “Since the war in 2011, it has become difficult to stay on in Tripoli. As a father of two children, I am very reluctant to relocate my family, especially to Pakistan, knowing well how bad the conditions there are. The Italian oil company that I was working for is also closing down its Tripoli offices. And I still have my dues to be cleared by my firm.”
In 2009, Pakistani government pledged to send 50,000 skilled workers to Libya under a memorandum of understanding signed between the two countries during Musharraf’s visit to Tripoli. In early 2014, Pakistani government welcomed the Libyan offer of investment as a “unique opportunity” with the assurance of transparency.
Pakistan and Libya share a history of friendly relations, 1950 onwards. During the times of King Idris, Pakistan provided economic and technical assistance to Libya. The ties deepened after Gaddafi took over in 1969. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and Colonel Gaddafi became close friends. Gaddafi also made fiery speeches in the United Nations, declaring support for Pakistan as a nuclear power. He termed Pakistan the “Fort of Islam” in the Second Islamic Summit Conference in 1974.
“During the Bhutto rule, more than 100,000 Pakistanis were employed on lucrative jobs in different fields in Libya, mainly the oil sector. The number of jobs significantly reduced after Gen. Ziaul Haq rejected Gaddafi’s request to spare Bhutto… The relations between the two countries took a nosedive. Number of Pakistanis employed in Libya was drastically reduced,” writes Nazar Abbas, a former ambassador to Tripoli in his column.