Saudi Arabia announces 72-hour deadline for iqama holders to return

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Panic ensued amongst travellers after Saudi Arabia announced on Thursday a 72-hour deadline for iqama holders (residents) from 12 countries, including Pakistan, to return to the Kingdom.The decision was taken amid fears of the global coronavirus pandemic.Following the announcement, travellers crowded offices of the Pakistan International Airline in Lahore, Faisalabad, Sialkot and other areas of the country. They have complained that the airline is only issuing tickets for two dates–March 16 and March 18–and is charging double the price for these tickets.

“The PIA officials told us that they will only issue us tickets before March 18,” an iqama holder stuck in Lahore said. “They are not even accepting the return tickets we had brought from Saudi,” he said.

“I brought this tickets for 1,500 Riyals, but these people have said that I will have to purchase a ticket again for Rs96,000,” another person complained.

Travellers in Sialkot protested outside the PIA office and demanded that the government take notice of the situation. They ended their protest after the airline assured them that they would get tickets.

PIA Spokesperson, on the other hand, has said that the airline was trying to accommodate as many people as it could. “Although the announcement was sudden, we have taken immediate action over it,” he said.

“We added three flights travelling to Saudi last night and have increased the number to six today (Friday) morning,” Khan said. “We have also mounted more planes on the route and have installed more than 2,200 seats in our planes,” he added.