The long tussle between the European Union and Pakistan on the issue of migrants has thankfully come to an end, as the EU agreed to Pakistan’s terms on the mechanism for deporting citizens. In a rare display of firmness, Interior minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan stood his ground on the matter of unverified deportees being sent back to Pakistan from the EU, and his hard stance has paid off. It is time that the international community respects Pakistan’s immigration laws. Be it that the deportees are essentially Pakistani citizens, deportation has to be carried through a proper mechanism so that each person is documented and does not pose a security threat.

The European Union is struggling with its biggest flow of refugees since World War II, and its agitation at the current situation is understandable. The EU persuaded Pakistan in November to restore a suspended agreement to facilitate the return of illegal Pakistani immigrants without documentation, to which Islamabad, more specifically the Interior minister vehemently disagreed. In December last year, Pakistan made headlines when it sent back at least 30 undocumented migrants that Greece was trying to repatriate, claiming that Greece had failed to provide substantial proof that they were Pakistani, a claim that was later disputed by the EU. Last year Islamabad also suspended the repatriation agreement, citing that it was being misused by member countries, which were not adequately checking the nationality of the deportees posing a security threat to Pakistan.

Pakistan as a populous country has seen an increasing number of its labour force moving to other countries around the world with the total number of Pakistani overseas workers and their families estimated to be around 4 million. Last year, about 21,000 Pakistanis who were in Europe without permission were ordered to return home. An estimated 50,000 Pakistanis travel legally to Europe for work each year, many of which go to the United Kingdom.

With this large population of oversees Pakistanis migrating for employment purposes, it would be expected that a system was in place for those going through illegal means. It is only now that Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) have been developed by the ministry for the transparent and speedy verification of applications, as well as the initiative of developing an electronic platform for issuing Emergency Travel Document (ETD) to verified deportees. The efforts of the minister must be appreciated, as it was unfair for Pakistanis to be turned back from their homeland in the absence of a mechanism to ensure their safe return.