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Pakistan treats its own Bengali citizens as aliens

26 October 2010 One Comment

Pakistan’s Interior Ministry is processing amendments in the Foreigners Act to tighten controls over alien Bengalis living illegally in the country.  Representatives of the Ministry informed the National Assembly Standing Committee on Interior that these amendments became necessary as the question of aliens involved security and economic implications.

The meeting of the Committee, held on October 18 in Islamabad, was also informed by the National Aliens Registration Authority (NARA) that over two million Bengalis were residing in Karachi alone and that over 53,000 of them had been registered.  The Committee, chaired by Abdul Qadir Patel, recommended that a joint meeting of NARA and the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) might be convened to speed up the process of the registration.  According to an estimate made in 1980, there were around three million Bengalis in Pakistan, and a significant portion of them living in Karachi.

A UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) delegation made an on the spot study of the plight of immigrants in Pakistan in 1980. It found that there were around 3.5 million immigrants in the country. Out of them, 2.2 million are living in Karachi and 90% of them belong to the Bengali-speaking community.

The report of Commission cited an interesting case it had come cross. One immigrant, by name, Muzaffar Ali had no documents that prove he was indeed a Pakistani citizen. The only document he had was a ticket of the passenger ship that had brought him from Dhaka to Karachi in 1966.

“I left my home and relatives in search of a livelihood. Once I reached Pakistan, I never got the opportunity to go back (to Dhaka). Even though my third son was also born here in Pakistan, and has grown up in Karachi, I still don’t have a national identity card. I don’t go out of Machar Colony for fear of the police who are always on the lookout for Bengalis,” the 65-year-old told the UN panel.

Machar Colony, also known as Muhammadi Colony, is one of the most thickly populated slums of Karachi and is home to over 200,000 Bengali-speaking people. It is one of the 116 locations in Karachi where Bengalis have been living for years.

“Bengali community is living in a state of constant fear and insecurity. The police are roaming the city and picking up Bengalis from each and every corner,” said Dr Aladdin, former Union Council Nazim (chief) of Machar Colony.

Some case studies based on interviews carried out by the UN Delegation make distressing reading.

“Why should I register myself as an alien? I was born in Karachi,” said 25-year-old Noor-ul-Hassan. “I was arrested because I speak Bengali,” said Shamsudin.  Displaying an old identity card as proof, he said, “Despite having an identity card, I was picked up by the police and put behind bars for two months under the Foreigners Act only because I speak Bengali.”

Chipped in Abdul Rahman, “I swear by the Holly Quran that I am born in Pakistan, I am Pakistani, my father and my son are Pakistanis but I am always discriminated against for being a Bengali”.

Rahman’ plight explain the heartbreaking tale of a generation struggling to find an identity.

“We supported the Muslim League, who opposed the creation of Bangladesh, but we were targeted by Pakistani security forces in 1971 during the war for independence for being Bengali. We fled that country and came here, but we are facing the same issues here … now you tell me: where should we go?”

Abdul, a resident of Korangi, a coastal township of Karachi, said that though they were being treated as second-class citizen in Pakistan, none of them wanted to return to the land of their forefathers, Bangladesh.

The problem for many Bengalis, who had fled the then East Pakistan because of the war of independence in 1971, is that they have no legal documents from either Pakistan or Bangladesh. Despite living in Pakistan for decades and originating from former East Pakistan, they are given the status of ‘aliens’ and not recognized as Pakistani citizen. They cannot return to Bangladesh now because they had supported the occupation forces of Pakistan and were opposed to creation of Bangladesh in 1971. Many had left the erstwhile East Pakistan before it officially became a new country.

Usman Town Bangalipara is another area which has a huge concentration of Bengalis for the past over 45 years; most of them are living in Pakistan from the days of Partition of India.

After Bangladesh was created in 1971, a lot of Bengalis left Pakistan for the newly formed country, but came back again in the 80s in search of employment and better opportunities. The Bengali-speaking people are the poorest segment of Pakistani society. They are hindered by their status as ‘aliens’ and there are very few, almost negligible number, who hold official documentation as Pakistani citizens. These Bengalis are facing harassment and problems and are living in constant tension.

When they contact NARA for getting their ID cards as Pakistani citizens, local officials deliberately create problems and turn them away under one or other pretext. NARA officials, who are entrusted with the responsibility of extending necessary services to them, are highly corrupt, and if bribes are not paid, the hapless Bengalis are sent to jail on charges of illegally staying in Pakistan.

Accounts of Bengalis being turned away from public hospitals and clinics are common. There are some instances when despite having official Pakistani national identity card (NIC) the Bengalis were denied medical treatment because of their Bengali origin and meager income.

The government of Pakistan has declared general amnesty for Bengalis who migrated to Pakistan before 1974, and they were granted permission to seek citizenship through proof of residence in the country. Those immigrants who had entered the country after 1974 till June 2000 are not entitled to citizenship, but they can seek temporary registration and permission to work. According to the NARA rules, all the Bengalis who entered Pakistan after July 10, 2000, have no right to work or do business; they are, in fact, supposed to be deported.

One Comment »

  • Khan said:

    The contents are not correct. NARA is establish to Register all aliens.The Bengalis who were residing in Pakistan before 1974 obtain/granted Pakistani citizenship certificate are Pakistani. They are not aliens. There is a difference between Pakistani Bengalis an aliens Bengalis, who came to Pakistan in 1980s.Those aliens are economicals ettlers. Majority of them came Pakistan by illegal boarder crossing and human smuggling/traffacking. They are aliens and their children even born in Pakistan are also aliens. All the documents scored without citizenship cerificate will be treated as bogus.So illegal boarder crossing of different countries criminal are not aloowed to stay in any country. Pakistan is not under populated country like Europe or Ameria who gave Nationality to person born in their country. Now Bengalis are using pakistan as passage to Europe and Middle East.They fraudently obtain fake Pakistani documents and when deported showed their fake Pakistani documents to have a bad imprssion of Pakistan.

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