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Deportees face justice at home

Aasim Saleem
April 5, 2016

The rejection rate of Pakistani migrants seeking asylum in Europe stands at over 90 percent. DW spoke to a lawyer from Pakistan, Zia Awan, about why Islamabad is unable to control illegal migration from its soil.

Griechenland Lebos Migranten aus Pakistan Rückführung Türkei
Image: DW/R. Shirmohammadi

More than 48,000 Pakistani migrants applied for political asylum in different European countries in 2015 and up to the end of January 2016. Because preference is being given to asylum seekers from war-torn countries, like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, prospects for Pakistani nationals are bleak. In 2015, the success rate for applicants stood at a mere 9.8 percent; in other words, more than 90 percent were rejected. This year, in January, it dropped even lower - with just 4.5 percent of asylum requests being granted.

So what happens to the thousands of Pakistanis who are stuck in different countries across Europe with little or no prospects for a future there?

A prominent Pakistani lawyer and human rights activist, Zia Awan, has worrisome tidings, saying that many deportees who return home will most likely be taken into custody because they left their country illegally and that is prohibited by Pakistani law.

Asylum statistics in Germany for the year 2015 and January 2016

In an exclusive DW interview, Zia Awan, shed some light on the causes, current scenarios and possible solutions to the problem of illegal migration from Pakistan.

Deutsche Welle: What factors lead to illegal migration from Pakistan and why can't the authorities control it?

Zia Awan: People migrate illegally from Pakistan due to poverty, unemployment, political instability, terrorism and war-like conditions in some parts of the country. On the other hand, there are certain cities in the eastern province of Punjab where people decide at a very young age that they will go abroad by any means possible. The majority of people traveling from cities such as Gujrat, Mandi Bahauddin, Kharian and some others have economic pursuits rather than genuine grounds for seeking refuge.

Pakistan does not have the resources to take appropriate measures to combat human trafficking and illegal migration. It is not possible for the authorities to patrol the entire Western border, from where these activities largely take place. Islamabad also does not have the best of bilateral relations with its neighbors, Iran and Afghanistan, which leads to a lack of exchange of intelligence.

Due to the ongoing refugee crisis, officials from the European Union have been making efforts to cooperate with countries like Pakistan which are a major source of the huge number of asylum seekers heading to Europe. So who is at fault then?

In Pakistan, the implementation of the law is weak and policies governing matters of migration are quite vague. There also seems to be a lack of will on the government’s side to deal with these issues. Though there are regional offices of a number of international organizations that work in these areas, there are none or very few efforts to improve the policy structure in this regard.

Then, one must also take into account that the lack of stability in Pakistan is not completely due to internal factors. Pakistan partly suffers from the chain reaction to the unstable political developments across the globe. The South Asian nuclear state, Pakistan, has been turned into a battle ground and since our political leadership is weak, they usually remain silent. Consequently, the resulting situation is conducive to crimes such as illegal migration.

Pakistani lawyer and human rights' activist
Pakistani lawyer and human rights' activist Zia AwanImage: Madadgar Help Line

A number of Pakistani migrants stuck in Europe lament the lack of assistance from the Islamabad government. They also claim that the interior ministry’s decision to not accept returnees without proper identification is making voluntary return difficult for them. What do you say about that?

In my opinion, the decision taken late last year by Pakistan’s Federal Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, is the right one. There are thousands of Bangladeshi, Afghan and Irani nationals residing in Pakistan for years. It is a common practice by these foreigners to obtain identification documents in Pakistan and then travel on these documents. When, they commit crimes abroad, it is Pakistan's image that is tarnished. So, the decision taken by the government of Pakistan aims to minimize these practices.

What are the chances for Pakistani asylum seekers in Europe and what happens to those who are being, or will be, deported?

To begin with, European asylum laws are such that people do find a way. Unfortunately, people have been taking advantage of these laws and they continue to do so. It is still quite easy to arrange forged documents, in countries like Pakistan, to strengthen one’s case. Then, one also has to consider the fact that Europe, too, is in need of cheap labor.

As for the question about what happens with deported Pakistani migrants; well, at the moment, there appears to be no system for them in place. Pakistani laws are made to prosecute and according to Pakistan’s immigration laws, crossing the border illegally is against the law. Consequently, the perpetrator must face charges in this regard and go to jail.

DW: What can be done to control or eradicate human trafficking and illegal migration from Pakistan?

In order to overcome issues like illegal migration, Europe and the western world must also work to establish political stability in Pakistan. As things stand right now, western countries favor Pakistani policies and institutions that are aligned according to their interests.

Human smuggling is a huge issue across the globe, and not just Pakistan but even Europe has not been able to find a solution to it. Foreign officials and representatives of international organizations, rarely cooperate with Pakistani law enforcement agencies. There is a lack of continuity in this regard which also leads to continuous cross-border movement.

Another important factor is that in Pakistan, very little assistance is provided to civil society to overcome issues like trafficking and illegal migration. When neither the law enforcement agencies nor civil society are ready to tackle these issues, how can you expect improvement.

Zia Awan is a prominent Pakistani lawyer and a human rights activist. He is the head of MADADGAAR, Pakistan’s first help line and protection service for children and women and is also the president of Lawyers For Human Rights and Legal Aid (LHRLA).

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