Temporary shelter for Pakistani family marooned by volcano

19th April 2010, Comments 0 comments

Four years after travelling to study in Europe and five days after setting off on their long-awaited return home, a Pakistani family is marooned by volcanic ash in a gym outside Paris.

Bedded down in a temporary shelter with their 10-year-old son and down to their last few euros, Syed Asif Ali Shah and his wife Wajiha are putting a brave face on the frustrating final stages of their long journey.

"We were certain that we were going back home and we spent our cash," said 41-year-old Shah. "My wife has 45 euros (60 dollars) and I have 15 euros."

Although an exhausted Wajiha feels frustrated at not being able to return to her family, which she hasn't seen in three years, the couple is still able to narrate their odyssey with a hint of amusement.

After spending over four years in Vienna, earning telecommunications doctorates, the couple is preparing to return home. "Now we have to do our duty and go back to Pakistan to teach," Wajiha said.

But before leaving they wanted to see the Eiffel Tower and Disneyland. They arrived in Paris on the 14th and were meant to catch a flight to Karachi two days later, after a stopover in Bahrein.

Their flight on the 16th was cancelled because of the cloud of volcanic ash that has paralysed flights all over Europe. A second flight to Bahrein on the 19th was also scrapped and they are now waiting for one on Friday.

"We closed our bank accounts in Vienna to recover our money and now we don't have enough cash to visit Paris," said Shah, who bought souvenirs in Paris and Disneyland before hearing airports were being closed.

After spending two nights at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport and one at a nearby hotel, the Syeds will now sleep Monday night at a gym in the suburb of Dugny, made available to stranded passengers by the local authority.

The gym has been equipped by the Red Cross to lodge the stranded passengers, an eating area and a number of single and family tents. It now offers better shelter than Charles de Gaulle airport.

"We are happy here," said Syed, as his son plays with a football given to him by the Red Cross.

"It's a good experience for our son, for his future. He's meeting different people from different countries," said the father.

"We met a Japanese, a family from Brazil, one from the US. All families just behave like one family now. He sees how to face the situation," he added.

Some twenty people had been relocated to the gym on Monday afternoon as most passengers preferred to remain in the airport area.

© 2010 AFP

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