x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Sadness tinges national day for expat Pakistanis

"Worst disaster ever" at home and mourning here mean independence anniversary events will be low key.

DUBAI // A sombre mood will prevail at the Pakistani independence day anniversary celebrations today as the community anxiously watches the plight of millions of people whose lives have been devastated by the floods. Expatriate Pakistanis are expected to gather in large numbers for the flag hoisting ceremony at the consulate in Dubai this morning to welcome the start of the 64th year of independence.

However, the usual mood of jubilation will be tempered as many expatriate Pakistanis think of loved ones struggling to survive in the flood-ravaged north-west region of their homeland. Welfare groups and diplomats will reiterate their appeals for the local community to help support those worst affected by the crisis. "It will be a sombre mood at the independence day gathering this time and we will look at this as an opportunity to involve more people in relief efforts," said Amjad Ali Sher, the consul general of Pakistan in Dubai. He said his people here have been left stunned by the horrific impact of the floods on their countrymen. "People want to help and they just need a direction. Our efforts to gather relief material and funds will hopefully help in reducing the impact."

"It is Ramadan and we hope this will also further encourage people to donate money," said Mr Sher. The Pakistani flag will be hoisted at the start of today's ceremony followed by a performance of the national anthem and protocol speeches. However, no major celebrations will be held out of respect for the victims who died in the floods. A new bank account, the "Flood relief account 2010," also will be announced today at the Pakistani consulate in Dubai, where people can transfer donations to the cause.

The death toll from the floods has risen to 1,600, and about 14 million people are known to be directly impacted by them. The UN has described this as the worst disaster ever, in the magnitude of the tsunami that struck the subcontinent in 2004. The calamity prompted a relief collection drive at the Pakistan Association in Dubai (PAD), where hundreds of Pakistanis handed over clothes, blankets, tents, food, medicines and other aid. One container carrying aid has already been despatched to the flood-hit region.

A steady stream of people visited the association all week to hand over relief materials. However, there is a feeling that more people from the community need to come forward. There is still a shortage of volunteers as well as monetary assistance. The Pakistan Social Centre in Sharjah also has organised an event on independence day aimed at generating funds for the relief efforts. "We expect thousands of Pakistanis to attend the event in Sharjah. I hope we can raise at least half a million dirhams from it," said Mr Sher.

Meanwhile, expatriate Pakistanis said the day would be low key and that it was impossible to celebrate amid the grief of millions of others. "Of course we will all come together as it is our independence day and it happens only once a year," said Iqbal Perwaz Khalil, an expatriate Pakistani who has been helping PAD with relief collection. "But this time the goal will be to stand and support our people who lost everything in the floods."

Mr Khalil is the director Al Khidmat foundation, a welfare group that has been gathering volunteers and contributions for flood relief. "The aim of such functions is to gather people from the community. This is an opportunity for everyone to help the less fortunate from our country." The association has collected and donated over Dh200,000 in cash to the flood-affected people in Pakistan. The collection continues until all aid requirements are fulfilled.

"This independence day also means a lot to us. It shows us how a natural calamity can destroy any country. We have to stand together for the progress of our country," said Shahbaz Khan, a Pakistani taxi driver in Dubai. "I will go join the celebrations and I will pray for the peace of my people." There are over 700,000 Pakistanis in the UA, making them one of the largest expatriate communities in the country.

@Email:pmenon@thenational.ae