Less than two months after Pakistan was devastated by one of the worst disasters in recent history, the European Union’s law-makers have decided that Pakistanis living in the 27-country bloc without permission should be returned home.
In a Sep 21 vote, the European Parliament approved a “readmission agreement” with Pakistan under which the country will be required to take back any of its nationals deemed to be “illegal immigrants” by the EU’s member states.
Negotiated over an eight-year period, the accord will give the Pakistani authorities 60 days to respond to requests to accept back their nationals from the EU. If no response is forthcoming during that period, the Union will be allowed assume that Pakistan has no objection to receiving the migrants in question. If, however, Pakistan wishes to turn down a request, it will have to present a written “justification” of its reasons for doing so.
Amnesty International has argued that the timing of the agreement is inappropriate at a time when Pakistan is struggling to cope with severe flooding and while the human rights situation in the country remains hugely problematic.
Anneliese Baldaccini, an analyst on asylum and immigration policy in Amnesty’s Brussels office, noted too that conflict in the surrounding region has caused major upheaval in Pakistan. “There are more than 1 million internally displaced people in Pakistan and many hundreds of thousands of Afghan refugees in Pakistan,” she said. “Pakistan is dealing with a situation that is already quite difficult. If the readmission agreement leads to a considerable number of returns (of Pakistani nationals) from the EU, then this would raise concerns. If there is no prospect of reintegrating nationals into Pakistani society, then we don’t see the merit in sending people back.”
The United Nations’ 1951 Refugee Convention forbids expulsions of people to countries where their lives are likely to be put at risk. According to Amnesty’s latest annual report, dozens of detainees were tortured to death or killed in custody in Pakistan last year, the fate of hundreds of disappeared people in the country remains unknown and members of religious minorities are subject to rising levels of violence and intimidation. A separate Amnesty study published in June dubbed north-west Pakistan a “human rights free zone”. Almost four million people in the north-west are effectively living under the Taliban, without the rule of law and without any protection from the Pakistani government, the report concluded.
The accord with Pakistan is the latest in a series of readmission agreements negotiated between the EU and foreign countries over the past decade. Some eighteen such agreements have either been finalised or are under discussion. Previous signatories of the agreements include Hong Kong, Bosnia, Serbia, Ukraine and Russia, while negotiations are ongoing with China, Morocco, Algeria and Turkey.
Amnesty’s Baldaccini complained that there is a paucity of data available on the impact of these agreements. It is frequently unclear, she said, whether migrants have been sent back to their countries of origin under EU agreements or those signed on a bilateral basis between individual states from the Union and governments outside it.
Michele Cercone, spokesman on home affairs with the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, said that it is vital that readmission agreements are negotiated by the entire Union. If individual EU governments continued to reach bilateral agreements “then we would have a very fragmented situation,” he added, where “there would be much less figures and much less evidence” about the number of people affected. The Commission has estimated that 13,000 Pakistanis were arrested in the EU during 2008 because their status was considered “irregular” or “illegal”.
The new accord was approved by 382 members of the European Parliament (MEPs), with 250 voting against.
French Green MEP Hélène Flautre said it is “seriously regrettable” that the accord had been approved. Pakistan already receives more refugees than any other country in the world, she said, even though it has not ratified key international law on the humane treatment of refugees. According to the UN data, authorities in Pakistan registered 1.7 million refugees in 2009.
Flautre lamented how the Parliament had failed in this case to exercise its recently acquired powers – granted under the EU’s Lisbon treaty – to reject readmission agreements. “This agreement with Pakistan adds to the growing list of EU readmission agreements which focus solely on deporting third country nationals from the EU, without concern as to whether the receiving country can guarantee the safety of or basic rights for those returned,” she said.
Dutch left-wing MEP Dennis de Jong described the agreement as “the wrong instrument at the wrong time”.
“Millions of people are fleeing the floods that have caused so much destruction,” he said. “At a time like this, the EU should be helping Pakistan, but instead it is seeking to send back asylum seekers whose applications have failed, ignoring the values we pride ourselves on in Europe.”
•First published by Inter Press Service (www.ipsnews.net), 22 September 2010