ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s new ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Lt. Gen. (retired) Bilal Akbar, said Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan would take up the issue of the release of Pakistani prisoners from Saudi jails when he visited the kingdom this month, international media reported on Tuesday.
Khan is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia on May 7-9.
“After the meetings to be held during the visit of Prime Minister Imran Khan, the work of release of prisoners should be expedited with Saudi cooperation,” Akbar said in an interview with Urdu News. “Hundreds of prisoners will be released and go back to Pakistan.”
In February 2019, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the release of about 2,100 Pakistani prisoners from the kingdom’s jails during a high-profile visit to Islamabad, Pakistan’s information minister had announced then. Saudi Arabia also signed investment agreements with Pakistan worth $20 billion on that trip.
The crown prince had “ordered the immediate release of 2,107 Pakistani prisoners”, after a request by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said in a post on Twitter then.
Huge numbers of Pakistanis travel to the Middle East every year, with many working on construction sites or as domestic helpers. The remittances they send back are vital for Pakistan’s dollar-starved economy.
In the Urdu News interview, Akbar also said the embassy would set up a 24 hour helpline and a “community engagement program” to listen to the concerns of Pakistani expats in the kingdom and provide them support.
“Our community also has to take care of the fact that they are in Saudi Arabia, a longtime friend of ours,” Akbar said. “Every member of the community represents Pakistan. Pakistan has to be fully represented while abiding by Saudi laws. We want the community to work hard and abide by Saudi law,” he said. The embassy will cooperate fully in solving the problems of the community.”
Last month, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan said he had opened a “full scale” enquiry into the country’s embassy and ambassador in Riyadh over what he called their failure to adequately take care of Pakistani workers based in Saudi Arabia, while the foreign office said Khan has recalled Islamabad’s envoy in Riyadh.
During the current fiscal year, Saudi Arabia remained the single largest contributor to workers’ remittances by sending in $690.4 million in March. The overall inflow from the kingdom during the fiscal year amounted to $5.7 billion followed by the UAE with $4.5 billion. There are over two million Pakistanis living in Saudi Arabia.