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Asia

Pakistan says it won't take back migrants with 'criminal record'

In a bid to solve the ongoing migrant crisis, the EU has been seeking ways to stem the stream of asylum seekers coming from countries like Pakistan. But what are the issues involved in it? DW examines.

Pakistan has temporarily suspended a 2010 agreement with European Union countries that allows them to deport Pakistani citizens entering the continent illegally, citing "blatant misuse."

Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said last week that the South Asian nation was pulling out of the accord with all European nations except Britain because they often deport Pakistani immigrants labeling them as terrorists.

"Pakistanis travelling illegally to any Western country are to be deported after proper verification," he said. "But most of these countries are deporting people without that."

Each year, thousands of Pakistanis undertake perilous journeys attempting to reach European shores via land and sea, transiting countries such as Iran, Turkey and Greece. While some flee the South Asian nation seeking refuge from terrorism, sectarian conflicts and religious intolerance, others have purely economic objectives.

Surging migrant flows

The number of Pakistanis filing asylum requests in the European Union between December 2014 and September 2015 was estimated to be about 32,000, according to Eurostat, the EU's statistics agency.

Around 13,000 applications were filed in Hungary, while Germany received over 5,000 petitions and the corresponding number in Italy stood at around 4,000. At the same time, more than 6,000 Pakistanis sought asylum in Britain, France, Austria and Greece.

A majority of these asylum seekers are men aged between 18 and 34.

Nevertheless, Pakistani nationals heading to Europe in a bid to seek asylum is not a new phenomenon.

Eurostat data point out that some 14,000 Pakistanis, on average, entered the EU illegally every year between 2010 and 2014.

In total, over 68,000 Pakistani citizens applied for political asylum in various countries across the 28-nation bloc during this period.

However, around 82 percent of these requests were rejected.

In case of rejection, the applicants are given a specific time period to return to their homeland, though this differs from country to country within the EU.

In the midst of a crisis

But data show that in the past five years only 40 percent of unsuccessful applicants have returned - a source of concern for Europe, particularly at a time when the continent is confronting the biggest refugee influx it has faced since World War II.

For instance, Europe's largest economy, Germany, is expecting about a million asylum seekers this year alone, more than four times as many as last year.

The swelling numbers of new arrivals have posed economic and logistical challenges - involving the provision of housing, health and schooling of migrants, among other things, and the question of who bears the costs of hosting the people.

The migrant influx has also sparked debates on cultural and social integration, emboldening far-right outfits in a host of European nations, including Germany and Sweden.

Analysts warn a failure to effectively tackle the migrant crisis could pose a threat to the very existence of the EU.

In an attempt to stem the stream of migrants, the EU member states recently agreed to certain short-term measures such as - quickly deporting unsuccessful applicants, creating hotspots across the migrants' route, tightening rules for asylum and providing financial aid to Middle Eastern countries hosting Syrian refugees.

Furthermore, there are strong voices within the EU advocating for an increased surveillance on the bloc's external borders.

More recently, efforts are also being pursued to involve governments of countries such as Afghanistan and Pakistan to curtail the flow of refugees from these nations.

Tackling migrant smuggling

In this context, Pakistani authorities have launched a crackdown against migrant smugglers, although experts say their efforts are too little against what seem to be formidable global networks.

Human smuggling is a trans-national crime and it is not possible to minimize it without collaboration of all the stakeholders, said Inam Ghani, Director of Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency.

Ghani told DW that the security agency had arrested 1,185 human smugglers between 2013 and 2014, while the corresponding number for this year so far stood at around 800.

He also noted that the government had created a special task force involving a number of the country's security agencies to deal with the issue.

However, he stressed that Pakistan, with its limited resources, will not be able to stop the outflow of migrants on its own, insisting that Europe needs to overhaul its asylum system so as to remove incentives for migrants to flee to the continent.

"In the past, it was relatively easy in Europe to obtain not just asylum, but also accommodation and monetary assistance. I believe, illegal immigrants should not be given any benefits or the right to apply for political asylum. They should be immediately deported."

Ghani also underlined that: "Although Pakistan is interested in taking back deported citizens, it will not accept migrants with dual nationalities who have criminal records."

Federal Investigation Agency Inam Ghani said that human smuggling is a trans-national crime

Federal Investigation Agency Inam Ghani says human smuggling is a trans-national crime

Improving opportunities

Senior Pakistani Journalist Iftikhar Ahmed also believes Syrian refugees should be given preference over migrants from other countries.

"Pakistani and Afghan nationals shall not be given preference over Syrians simply due to the fact that their situation is incomparable to the situation which Syrians are going through because of the civil war," he said.

In terms of the reasons behind Pakistanis fleeing to Europe, Choudhry Shabbir Ahmed, the head of Overseas Pakistanis Commission District Gujrat Office, told DW that many of them leave due to a lack of industry and job opportunities. "Almost 300,000 people from Gujrat City alone have gone to Europe," the official told DW.

Experts in Pakistan are of the opinion that to discourage the outflow of Pakistani nationals, steps such as information campaigns, loan schemes and vocational training for the youth are required.