Pakistani couple besieged in Syria finally contacted by embassy

  • FO spokesman says country’s embassy in Damascus had established contact with elderly couple on Tuesday

LAHORE: Pakistan’s diplomatic machinery has been set in motion after the country’s diplomats stationed in the Syrian capital, Damascus, contacted an elderly Pakistani couple besieged in Eastern Ghouta after their plight was highlighted by Pakistan Today.

The couple—namely Muhammad Fazal Akram (72) and Sughran Bibi Akram (62)—is among the 400,000 civilians who have been caught in the siege put in place by the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

Earlier in December, Pakistan Today contacted the Pakistani couple, who called for help from their government to rescue them from the besieged area—which is only a few kilometres away from the embassy.

Pakistan’s Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal said Thursday that Pakistan’s embassy in Damascus had established contact with the elderly couple on Tuesday. “We came across a news story about an old Pakistani couple in Damascus trying to take refuge in the embassy of Pakistan in Syria,” he said. “We contacted Fazal Akram on December 26, who informed that he belonged to Gujrat district of Punjab province and has been living in Eastern Ghouta since 1988 with his Pakistani wife since arriving in the country in 1975.”

While assuring that the couple would be safely evacuated at the earliest with the help of the Syrian Foreign Ministry, the spokesman said that they never approached the Pakistani embassy for any assistance, either consular or any other services.

A diplomat from Pakistan’s embassy in Syria talks to Muhammad Fazal Akram. Picture Courtesy: Qusay Noor

However, it is important to highlight that during their talk with Pakistan Today (published December 20), Akram said that they had attempted to contact the embassy and the government repeatedly over the years.

“I have contacted the Pakistani embassy so many times. Every time they snub me. I have been contacting them since the war broke out, but I get no response. Now, the situation is so bad that I feel there is no chance of me getting out,” he said.

“They don’t even pretend to treat us with respect anymore,” he went on to say. “The last time I asked them for help, they told me to get lost and go back to Pakistan if I could. How can I go back to Pakistan with no help?”

Even though access to food and medicine had been restricted in the area by the Assad regime, at least 12 critically ill patients have been evacuated from Eastern Ghouta to Damascus.

According to humanitarian groups, more besieged people, who were in need of immediate medical help, would be evacuated from the area at the earliest.

However, Syrian journalist Firas Abdullah, who is also photographer and media activist from the Ghouta Media Centre, told Pakistan Today: “The number of people who have been evacuated [from Eastern Ghouta] is too few according to the cases that we have here now. [Moreover], the regime wouldn’t allow to evacuate them if there was not a deal in place to release prisoners—which is immoral and it’s like using the weak people [as pawns] in military issues.”

Additional reporting by Khan Babrak Yousafzai