On Friday Federal Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan revealed that Pakistan has suspended readmission agreements with western countries, except the United Kingdom, citing “blatant misuse”. This means that agreements under which countries deported illegally traveling Pakistanis back to their countries need to be renewed or renegotiated. This move continues the trend set by the Interior Ministry to tidy up the rules surrounding citizenship and travel, which started with the Exit Control List being updated, Afghan refugees being documented, and International Non-Government Organisations (INGO) being monitored more extensively. With Europe and surrounding countries deep in refugee crisis, misuse of deportation agreements is a real possibility, but the Interior Ministry must take care that it does not get too out of touch with Pakistan’s foreign diaspora.

The Minister claimed that over the past year over 90,000 have been deported back to Pakistan – a large number – and that a portion of these have been sent back without proper verification, on trumped up charges, and sometimes without even determining if they actually hold Pakistani nationality. Caution is wise. The influx of undocumented foreigners has been the bane of Pakistan’s counter terrorism operations.

Even now the country is struggling to plug its western borders. If this measure helps stem this tide, or at least makes it more accountable after renegotiation, then it stands vindicated as a calculated risk. Yet, the danger of leaving Pakistani nationals in limbo abroad must also be kept in mind, especially when the government has been guilty of abandoning Pakistani workers in the Gulf.

The agreements, and effective mechanisms to avoid misuse this time around must be instituted immediately. If Pakistan does not reconstitute the readmission agreements quickly enough, than it cannot help its citizens who are in need abroad. Illegal immigrants, people convicted of local crimes, and other ‘persona non grata’ will be forced to stay in the country which holds them; often in derelict shelters and refugee camps. Without the assurity of being able to return to their country of origin they effectively become stateless individuals – without the protection their government is duty bound to give them. The government has already been a culprit in this crime. Workers duped and used as drug mules to the Gulf States by traffickers are left to face horrific punishments without the government’s intervention. Similarly, human rights violations committed by Gulf state employers are often brushed under the rug. Already a chasm exits between the protection of the state and citizens abroad, it must not be made wider.