ISLAMABAD - In a move to curb human smuggling in the country, Ministry of Interior has stepped up efforts to verify citizenship of around those 50,000 illegal immigrants stranded in Turkey who possess Pakistani travelling documents. After verification of their travelling documents by the National Database & Registration Authority (NADRA) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), those having genuine Pakistani nationality would be brought back to Pakistan, a senior official of the Ministry of Interior said.

According to official sources, Turkey had taken up the matter with State Minister for Interior Shehryar Afridi during his recent visit to the Istanbul that around 50,000 illegal immigrants stranded in Turkey had travelled through Pakistani passports. Turkey suspects that many of these illegal immigrants can be Afghan nationals and they have fake Pakistani travelling documents, the interior ministry official said.

Abdul Aziz Uqaili, Spokesperson of the Ministry of Interior, told The Nation that Pakistani team comprising officials from NADRA and FIA would be visiting Turkey in next few days to establish nationality of those stranded people in Turkey. “The exact figures of Pakistanis stranded or detained there can only be confirmed after verification of their national status,” he added.

In a meeting held at the Ministry of Interior, last week, a decision was taken to initiate the process of verification and repatriation of these illegal immigrants. Afridi chaired the meeting while senior officials of Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), Ministry of Interior, FIA and NADRA attended the meeting. To speed up this process, the meeting decided to form a three-member committee comprising senior officials from interior ministry, MoFA, FIA and NADRA, and directed them to submit an action plan in this connection.  A report containing this plan would be submitted to Prime Minister Imran Khan by the month-end as the country is facing embarrassing situation at some international forums due to the rising human smuggling and human trafficking from here.

Similarly, Ministry of Interior has also directed the FIA to intensify its crackdown against human smugglers — an exercise that has been launched many times in the past but did not give any fruitful results. The 6th Ministerial Conference under Budapest Process held in Istanbul on 19-20 February in its “Istanbul Commitments”, adopted by close to 40 countries, agreed to dismantle human smuggling and “recognised the severe risks posed by organised criminal networks involved in irregular migration to internal security and the security of citizens and migrants alike.” The countries agreed to “prevent and counteract irregular migration, facilitate return and readmission of irregular migrants, and combat criminal networks involved in smuggling of migrants.”

According to official sources, Turkey informed Afridi that it had requested the last Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government to verify citizenship of illegal immigrants stranded there. At that time, NADRA had asked Turkey to pay $700,000 as verification charges — a hefty amount that was denied by the latter to pay. Now Turkey conveyed to the state minister that these charges should be waived off. Afridi has directed the NADRA to withdraw verification charges as this makes no sense that registration authority should charge hefty amount for verification of its own nationals from a brotherly state. In 2018, the US State Department in its annual review had placed Pakistan on Tier 2 which includes those countries that do not fully comply with the minimum standards to curb human trafficking and migrant smuggling but are making significant efforts to do so.