x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Pakistani expats promised help to improve homeland

The federal minister for overseas Pakistanis, Farooq Sattar, promises the UAE's 850,000-strong community help in building homes in their native country.

Pakistanis working in the UAE have been promised help to build homes for their families in their native country. The pledge came from Farooq Sattar, the federal minister for overseas Pakistanis, when he addressed the first Overseas Pakistanis Forum in Dubai. Housing was at the top of the list of concerns of the UAE's 850,000 Pakistanis, who were represented by about 200 hand-picked community members. "When it comes to low-cost housing, we will engage you," Mr Sattar said. "Building homes will be beneficial for us and for you. It will give a kick-start to our economy." The week-long forum was organised by Javed Malik, Pakistan's ambassador at large. Building a family home in Pakistan is a tradition and an ambition for most families, regardless of whether they live there. Pakistanis in the UAE, faced with the financial downturn and the prospect of having to return home, have been keen to enlist government help. Other items on Mr Malik's list of issues for consideration were: improving the education available to Pakistani students in the UAE; making it easier to send money home; providing health care to poor labourers; setting up training centres for newcomers; and opening cultural centres.

Mr Malik has picked 15 community members to form an advisory panel. All are men. One of them, Noor al Hasan Tanvir, the head of a construction company, said: "This is a very important meeting for our community. What I am most concerned about is the voting rights for overseas Pakistanis. I also think we send a lot in remittances from the UAE and we should be well-recognised and given some importance for that." The lack of voting rights has been a long-standing complaint among Pakistan's overseas community. "Overseas Pakistanis should have the right to vote in elections," Mr Sattar agreed. "This has been drafted and is in the approval stage."

Mr Malik said the burden of supporting their community was too heavy for individual expatriates. Dr Zarqa Taimur, who was at the forum, volunteers at a free medical camp in Dubai and teaches English to Pakistanis. Naheed Nafees, who is a member of a women's group, spends large amounts of money on booking hotels for community functions. Pakistanis were in dire need of a modern, fully functioning hall, she said. The advisory panel will report to Mr Malik, who will take its recommendations to Mr Sattar. asafdar@thenational.ae