No voluntary takers of the mass repatriation deal
The deal to return thousands of illegal immigrants from Britain to Pakistan will increase the indiscriminate targeting of Pakistani immigrants by the authorities
By Murtaza Ali Shah
An agreement signed by the UK and Pakistani government is seen as tilted totally in favour of the UK government desperate to shoe out immigrants, particularly of Pakistani origin. Questions are getting louder over the meakish role played by the Pakistani officials while caving in to the UK pressure.
After a meeting with his British counterpart Alan Johnson, Pakistan's Interior Minister Rehman Malik announced during President Asif Ali Zardari's recent three-days visit to the UK that Pakistan will fully cooperate with Britain to work towards the return of thousands of Pakistani immigrants living illegally in Britain. He said that Pakistan's high commission in the UK will produce free-of-charge passports for these migrants but fell short of stating who will pay for the fare.
The scale of what is called the "black or underground economy" is so huge that it is said that if all illegal workers in London went on strike, the capital's life will completely collapse. Some sectors such as retail, agriculture, building and catering heavily depend on immigrants from outside of the European Union and other rich countries.
Pakistanis, Indians, Bangladeshis and Sri Lankans are running very successful businesses related to grocery retail, Asian restaurants and building work. The strong Asian community support system means there is always a space available for new arrivals to be accommodated into jobs, almost always on rates hundred percent below than the national rate of minimum wage.
Different studies estimate that the number of total immigrants in the UK is easily near the mark of 1 million. A recent London School of Economics (LSE) study estimated that there were about 618,000 illegal immigrants; a greater London Authority study calling for an amnesty of illegal immigrants said the number is somewhere between 420,000-860,000. A right wing anti-immigration think tank Migration Watch puts the number of illegal Pakistanis at nearly 200,000 but many other immigration advocacy groups put this number at half of that figure and say the number of Pakistani immigrants is exaggerated to spread fear.
It is generally believed that the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) will bear the costs. The IOM already has been running a number of schemes and incentives for illegal immigrants to go back home. Under the programme called Voluntary Assisted Return and Reintegration Programme (VARRP), the IOM bears costs of preparing travel documents and air fare for the overstayers and pays travel costs and repatriation fees to failed asylum seekers, nearly £2,500 for each individual.
Rehman Malik was referring to the Memorandum of Understanding called Managed Migration signed between Pakistan and the UK in 2005. This agreement was signed at the request of the British government concerned at the growing number of illegal immigrants from the Pakistan, most of whom were in prisons on account of immigration offences.
The announcement has caused worry as immigration experts and human rights activists fear that this agreement will be used to force and persecute immigrants in pursuit of Labour government's desperation to meet targets of deportation to appease the right-wing opposition to immigration. They fear that Pakistani immigrants, concerned only with bread and butter affairs, will suffer in overwhelming numbers due to the factors related to Pakistan's perception in the West and the involvement of many Pakistani nationals in the terror-related activities.
A leading immigration solicitor, who has successfully dealt with hundreds of Pakistani immigration cases and is considered an authority on Pakistan's political and religious milieu, called it a mass repatriation of immigrants by all means possible which is highly likely to put aside the rules of compassion and may violate the human rights of immigrants.
Muhammd Amjad of Dexter Montague solicitors said that Pakistan's high commission tends to be more cooperative than other high commissions or embassies and in some cases issued Pakistani passports to individuals who were Afghans.
The forced deportation of immigrants is a daily occurance and the Home Office are keen to speed up the process with quicker documentation of individuals. But what worries Muhammad Amjad most is the fact that Pakistani officials have historically tended to bend over backwards to issue travel documents. With this new agreement, he thinks, the process may speed up to such an extent that detainees may not even get the opportunity to get proper legal advice before facing removal despite having genuine reasons for not returning to Pakistan due to risks on account of their sect, political belonging and tribal rivalries. It may come as a surprise to the public but many genuine refugees only succeed in their applications after having made fresh applications.
Amjad adds: "Where the Home Office could struggle in the past in securing paperwork for removal purposes, this job will now potentially be made easier and quicker but a knock-on effect of the new quicker process of documentation will be that increasingly, individuals are unlikely to be granted temporary release or bail as the UK Border Agency (UKBA) will inevitably seek to justify detention on the basis that removal is imminent. As a consequence many Pakistanis will face a greater prospect of detention prior to any removal. Despite all the hype Pakistani bureaucracy will remain as slow as ever and as a result many nationals will end up facing longer periods of detention."
The agreement has been welcomed by Sir Andrew Green of Migration Watch who thinks it will facilitate returns to Pakistan "especially documentation which is essential".
"There are unlikely to be many volunteers as most are earning money here but those detected are more likely to be sent back. This likelihood of removal is the best deterrent to illegal immigration," Sir Green told TNS.
Jill Rutter, the head of policy at the Refugee and Migrant Justice, called on both governments to handle the repatriation cases with care and ensure that it's sustainable. "Those who are repatriated should be able to make a living in Pakistan or else further migration is very likely."
"Crucially, we need to ensure that the UK government is not sending endangered people back to situations where their lives may be at risk."
A Refugee Council official said on condition of anonymity that the UK government was offering meager financial help to those willing to return but many will be forced to return in clear violation of their UN enshrined human rights.
"It is important that anyone forcibly returned anywhere has access to all the legal safeguards available to them, and no-one is sent back to face persecution."
A British Home Office spokesperson told TNS that Britain welcomed Interior Minister Malik's commitment to facilitating the return of Pakistani nationals who have been found to have no right to stay in the UK.
We also welcome the very close co-operation which we have with the Pakistan government in working to tackle international terrorism," he said.
The High Commission of Pakistan in London says Pakistan is bound to take back its citizens who are rendered illegal on foreign lands but denies that it will go out of its way to issue documents to repatriate the illegals.
A spokesman said: "Under the existing arrangement, the two governments have established a Joint Working Group to review the implementation of the MoU on Managed Migration as well as the respective ministers also meet occasionally to discuss, inter-alia, immigration-related matters. All such meetings should be seen in this backdrop."
A close look at the history of immigration from Pakistan to Britain will suggest that there will not be many voluntary takers of the offers and rewards offered by the UK and Pakistan.
The writer is an assistant editor at The News
– UK edition.
A migrant's tale
Calais, the La Jungle badland border between Britain and France, currently houses thousands of immigrants desperate to reach Britain. Living in utterly squalid conditions, these immigrants are dreaming to be able to reach Britain one day and be joined by their existing thriving communities. Afghans, Iraqis, Africans and Chinese youth, some as young as 9 years old dumped out by their parents from third world's poverty, and Pakistanis are a significant number amongst this group.
A 25 year old man from Rawalpindi reached Britain two months ago after paying Rs900,000 to an agent who made him travel through land routes via Iran and Turkey into France's Calais and onto Britain over 15 months, three police encounters and living without food for days on end.
The only brother of four sisters, who have reached the age of marriage but cannot get married due to poor financial circumstances, got his fingers completely burnt in Calais as he was told by his fellow travellers that doing so will make it impossible for the authorities to finger print him anywhere in Europe.
Now working in a takeaway for 14 hours a day and earning 210 pounds a week, he is determined to plough on.
"It's very simple. I will not get involved in any kind of violation of the law. UK police doesn't bother those who don't commit crimes. I have to first earn back the Rs900,000 that I paid to the agent. Then I have my sisters to marry off and other family members to support. I am happy that I am working and I cannot think of returning to Pakistan."
He blames politicians of Pakistan for making a mess of the country and turning it into a living hell for poor people. "If I am ever caught, they will have to literally drag me to the plane to Pakistan. I don't want to go back to Pakistan. It has no solution for my financial problem."
Pakistan and Afghanistan share the longest border in the world. But not the strongest ties
By Waqar Gillani
"Who are you and where are you going at this time," asked the Afghan security official in Pashto, stopping our car packed with Pakistani journalists. We were on our way back to the guesthouse after another day of covering the Afghan presidential elections. We were told to get out of the car, and show him our passports. It took him at least 10 minutes to 'scrutinise' the documents.
"You celebrate your Independence Day with fervour but you spoiled our independence and caused disturbance in our region," one of the officials said in Pashto which a colleague translated for me. "You are lucky you all are Pakhtoons. If there was any Punjabi among you he would have had to spend at least a night in the lockup." The seven of us were eventually allowed to go without him knowing that two of us were Punjabis.
This is just a glimpse of the contempt some Afghans hold against Pakistanis; especially towards the Punjabi elite of Pakistan army who are in majority.
Ashraf Ghani Ahmadzai, a strong contender in the 2009 presidential elections, said, while talking to this scribe in his house: "Pakistan and its Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) have spoiled Afghanistan. Everyone knows what they have been doing in Afghanistan. But now we want good relations with Pakistan since we are a sovereign state."
Surprisingly, Pakistani media also did not have a significant role in monitoring Afghan elections due to Afghan intelligence's expected harassment of Pakistani journalists, and also those who work for the Pakistani media. But Samandar Khan, senior journalist in Kabul, believes the general public is not biased the way security forces or politicians are. Most Afghans, he told TNS, have visited Peshawar at least once.
"I have been living in Peshawar and had also been working as a cook in Islamabad for more than 10 years," said another Hayatullah Khan.
Pakistan and Afghanistan share a long history. The Pashtuns of what is now NWFP and the Tribal Areas of Pakistan also made tremendous sacrifices for about 130 years both under the Sikhs and the British (1818-1947).
Afghanistan -- a gateway to Central Asian markets -- still blames Pakistan for backing the Taliban who are fighting American forces in Afghanistan. Afghan president Hamid Karazi, repeatedly, has blamed Pakistan for backing terrorism by being "lenient" to those who infiltrate from the Pak-Afghan border, one of the longest in the world.
Many Pakistanis, on the other hand, allege Kabul of wanting to include Pakistan's tribal areas and NWFP in its belt. But the likes of former ISI chief Hameed Gul believes that Pakistan and Afghanistan are inseparable because the same enemy -- the Sikhs and Marathas -- Abdali crushed in the 18th century have reappeared in the form of India threatening the sovereignty of the entire region.
Gul's comment is an example of Pakistan's intervention in Afghanistan through its Inter Services Intelligence (ISI). Gul was also invited to attend the Mujahideen Parade when the Taliban took over Afghanistan in 1990s.
Pakistan's ambassador to Kabul Mohammad Sadiq, talking to TNS, said there were two types of people in Afghanistan; those who dislike Pakistan and those who want better ties with the country. "Those who dislike Pakistan are former communists. They are dying out now. They oppose Pakistan for its role in cold war against Russia. But the majority of people are not anti-Pakistan. There are also people who have tears in their eyes when they hear the news of a blast in Pakistan which shows their love to Pakistan."
The same type of division is also prevalent in security forces and organisations. "The unique relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan – which is rooted in common religion, culture, tradition, history and values – should not just be a relationship between two countries or governments but beyond this. It should be between two peoples and societies," Sadiq said.
We need to mend our broken ties with Afghanistan quickly lest it becomes another neighbour like India.
A promising first step
The reform package on Gilgit-Baltistan is, according to some, the maximum that could be done to empower the region given the ground realities. Others disagree
A long awaited reform package on Gilgit-Baltistan, recently announced by Prime Minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, is regarded a significant step towards empowering local people to elect their own representatives to run their affairs. A welcome part of the package is the adoption of historical and original nomenclature of the region 'Gilgit-Baltistan' instead of Northern Areas.
The package also offers a range of intuitions of governance and accountability both in the domains of legislature and judiciary which were not available to the people in the past sixty years. According to the package, Gilgit-Baltistan would have its own governor, chief minister, election commission and some other key state bodies to make the region at par with Azad Kashmir. To reduce the role of ministry of Kashmir Affairs and Northern Areas, a Gilgit-Baltistan Council would be formed with equal representation from the region and the National Assembly of Pakistan.
The package fulfils the longstanding and consistent demand of the people of the region for their rights to participatory democracy and governance. The past governments in Islamabad had simply ignored the people's aspirations. Unlike Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan was directly ruled by the federal bureaucrats over the last six decades without being held accountable for any of their actions. Consequently, this had generated a sense of deprivation and frustration across the board particularly among the youth who felt let down and humiliated.
The strategic location of Gilgit and Baltistan, too, had made citizens sensitive about their uncertain future. It is situated between the two competitive regional powers, China and India. Both the neighbours have been taking deep interest in the internal affairs of Gilgit-Baltistan for different reasons. The Western China has the shortest route through this region to reach Gwadar port in the gulf waters. Huge widening and upgradation work is underway on Karakorum highway to develop north-south international trade corridor to link China, Russia and Central Asian state to the oil rich Middle East through Gwadar port.
Ismail Khan, an eminent expert on the region believes that India too pins its hopes on the reopening of Skardu-Ladakh route as well as Astore-Srinagar road -- traditional Silk route -- to have land access up to Central Asian States besides the Chinese province of Xinjiang. "This has made Gilgit-Baltistan a natural corridor for future trade and tourism between several regional countries."
In this context, the reform package has been unveiled well in time and should be appreciated. "It, however, does not address some critical issues like it does not envision formation of interim constitution which is key to devise sustainable democratic system of governance. Likewise, it does not offer any mechanism to have access to higher judiciary for remedy, says Hafiz-ur-Rahman, PML-N President for Gilgit-Baltistan."
Additionally, the formation of Gilgit-Baltistan Council is not plausible in the context of Kashmir Council which always drew huge criticism from AJK politicians and civil society. It has been considered as a tool to snip local autonomy and runs almost a parallel government in Azad Kashmir.
Therefore, it was about time to restructure the proposed Gilgit-Baltistan Council to make it a constructive body rather a competitive authority. Its current configuration is heavily tilted towards Islamabad while Gilgit appears a weaker party. Certainly, Islamabad and Gilgit both need a coordinating body to streamline the routine matters between the two authorities but not a body to overshadow the Gilgit administration. However, there is widespread scepticism about the absence of limitation on revenue generation authority and rights.
Conversely, the reforms package has evoked considerable controversy in the Kashmiri circles on both sides of the line of control. It is seen as a step towards an incision of a part of the disputed state. Some would see it as the maximum that could be done to empower the region within the present ground realities.
All political parties in Pakistan lauded this move except the Kashmiri leadership across the line of control. Most probably they were not taken on board before making public the fresh initiative on Gilgit-Baltistan. All major stakeholders, including the ruling coalition partners in AJK, maintain a unanimous position about the region and its future.
A number of All Parties Conferences and AJK assembly resolutions clearly declared Gilgit-Baltistan part of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The Kashmiri politicians fear that the emerging set up may pave the way for the division of Jammu and Kashmir State.
Though, Islamabad replicated the AJK template but a portfolio of Governor to Minister of Kashmir Affairs, even though interim, is being widely criticised. The appointment of governor also raises doubts, widely respected Kashmiri leader Sardar Khalid Ibrahim fears that the reforms package will transform Gilgit-Baltistan into a full-fledged province in the next step.
Pakistan's official policy on the Northern Areas seems confused and uncertain, particularly after 1980. The main reason was the strategic importance of the region and hence a section of the government has always wished that the areas be merged with Pakistan. Ever since November 1947, the interior and foreign ministries have been thinking on these lines particularly about the Gilgit Agency.
The Interior Ministry argues that the Gilgit Agency had not been under the administrative control of Maharaja of Kashmir. The British held and administered these areas like other political agencies of the tribal areas. Hence, with the British gone, the Gilgit Agency gets automatically transferred to Pakistan. "And, as the people of the area have themselves opted to join Pakistan, the legal requirement has also been met, a former diplomat confided on the condition of anonymity."
Another historic fact is that Khan Abdul Qayyum Khan, the first Chief Minister of NWFP, being a Kashmiri and quite active in the Kashmir struggle, had proposed in 1947 that Gilgit Agency should be transferred to Governor NWFP, like any tribal area. Thus with time the Agency would become part of North West Frontier Province.
The Foreign Office did not agree to the proposal at that time. It felt that although it was nominal yet Maharaja of Jammu and Kashmir exercised authority over Gilgit. And thus Gilgit was not independent. There was also a possibility of plebiscite under the auspices of United Nations. Then why should the Gilgit Agency's "vote bank" be lost?
The above dilemma still persists, and can be seen in the initiatives of various government organs in their respective spheres. Gilgit Agency is sometimes shown on the survey maps as part of Pakistan while on some other occasions it is clubbed in with the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The relationship between Azad Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan has been deemphasised at the very outset. The Ministry of Kashmir Affairs blocked political parties of Azad Kashmir to run their political activities in Gilgit and Baltistan. Late K.H. Khurshid was not allowed entry into Gilgit.
The founder President of the Azad Jammu and Kashmir, Sardar Mohammad Ibrahim, once said that he was not allowed to visit the region whenever he tried. Such actions by the Ministry of Kashmir Affairs were considered to mean that people of the two areas should not be allowed to forge close relations.
Islamabad, however, has not de-linked Gilgit-Baltistan from the broader Kashmir dispute which is a positive development. However, despite the reservations of Kashmiri leaders, there is no likelihood that in future Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK can become one unit. This is the right time for the government to dispel the apprehensions of Kashmiri leadership. At least, the office of chief minister can be replaced with the chief executive and the portfolio of governor can be abolished.
The writer is an Islamabad-based analyst.
Edward Kennedy (1932-2009) will be remembered as the champion of those without voice and vote
By Dr Arif Azad
One of the longest serving US senators Edward Kennedy lost the long battle with brain tumour on August 25 at 77. His passing away marks a considerable diminution of progressive and liberal political values
That the mystique of Edward's status was bolstered by the hold the Kennedy family has held over American imagination is beyond doubt. In retrospect, Edward's public status was also a handicap in the sense that his private foibles were endlessly pored over by the media. One such was the death of Mary Joe Kopechne in 1969 -- in a drowning incident in Chappaquiddick Island – where Edward's role was more than questionable. This incident cost him presidential ambitions – a privilege which Kennedys considered almost a family heritage.
For a man born into privilege, and given to hedonistic ways as a pampered youth, he redeemed himself through his legislative record on social policy that connected him to the nuts and bolts of ordinary life and politics. In all the years he lived, he was more interested in the real outcomes of social policy for the uninsured, undocumented, sick and old, disabled and poor.
When the final balance sheet of his life is drawn up, he will be remembered as the champion of those without voice and vote. Remarkably, in an age when politicians positioned themselves, he took positions on political issues of the day. Much of US progressive legislation in recent decade owes to the passionate social impulses of his heart and his bipartisan skills across political aisle in the Senate.
Kennedy's father, Joseph Kennedy, was a Bostonian who, after making his fortune, entered politics and rose to be the US ambassador to Great Britain during the Second World War. The Kennedy house was intensely political and it was natural for Edward to absorb political lullabies from his early childhood. An average student, Edward Kennedy qualified as a lawyer after stumbling through university. The assassination of his brother John F Kennedy prematurely cast him into politics. He succeeded his brother to the Senate, only 30 years of age.
Considered too callow and playboyish for the gravitas of a senatorial position, Edward confounded his critics by shining as a passionate advocate for progressive and liberal causes in the Senate. Edward's maiden speech in the Senate was delivered on the passage of Civil Rights Act 1964, a landmark legislative milestone in US history. This was to form the beginning of a vast legislative record which includes Voting Rights Act 1965, Disabilities Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and Education Reform Act, to name only a few of his crowning legislative achievements.
It is hard to find any area of social policy legislation that does not carry Edward imprint in one way or another. Being the longest surviving scion of the Kennedy family (which was not lucky in the length of years) he was expected to follow the path of his brother to the White House. After refusing to offer his candidacy for Democratic Party nomination for two elections, he finally bowed to the enormous weight of expectation by running for democratic nomination in 1979. The presidential run ended in tears, though the speech he made at the democratic convention became the signature tune of his political life. From then onwards, Edward came into his own as a pro-people legislator, thus cementing his progressive legacy.
By identifying himself with the worth and dignity of ordinary politics, he grew into Ted Kennedy we have known in our conscious lives. He was one of the early advocates for consumer protection when consumer movement was in its infancy. Similarly, he was involved in sponsoring Kennedy-Hatch law which protected consumers from tobacco industry impact on public health. Edward defended consumer's choices from commercial influences in a manner no one did before him. In his opening speech at the 1978 Senate hearing on the marketing of formula milk in developing country, he posed point blank question to a Nestle executive: "Whose responsibility is it to control the advertising, marketing and promotional activities which may create a market in spite of public health considerations?"
These progressive measures and policy interventions on behalf of powerless consumers shall always inspire struggle for consumer rights all over the world. As chairman of the House Labour and Education Committee, Edward played a decisive role in getting difficult social legislation passed.
Edward's lasting wish was to see universal health coverage extended to all Americans. All his life he strove to achieve this aim, with limited success. This was to change with his courageous endorsement of Obama, which, apart from inaugurating a watershed in US politics, also lent a new urgency and edge to long-running debate on health reform. With Obama adopting the healthcare reform as his electoral plank, long-postponed healthcare reform in back on the agenda. As so often with progressive legislation in the US, the healthcare reform bill is being stoutly resisted by organised medical interest.
Senator Kennedy's death should spur the passage of health reform bill. Those on the opposite side of this issue should cross the political aisle as a lasting tribute to this man who always gave priority to his public spirit at the expense of his private interests.
Despite being wholly preoccupied by domestic public policy, Edward forays of foreign policy were guided by deeply-held ethical principles. These principles were writ large on his opposition to apartheid regime in South Africa and to Iraq war, where he bravely defied cosy consensus of war-mongering political establishment. Edward's intervention was instrumental in getting the Irish peace process back on track for which he is held in high esteem on both sides of the border.
Though he has departed from our midst, the cause he embodied endures, the hope he radiated lives on and the dreams he dreamt shall never die. His life epitomises the redemptive power of public service. Our legislators can take a cue from Edward's life.
Dr Arif Azad is chief executive of the Network for Consumer Protection. [email protected]