Twenty-year-old F* was sitting in a gemstone bazaar in Peshawar when he heard Prime Minister Imran Khan say the government will grant citizenship to the children of Afghan, Bengali-speaking and Burmese refugees.
The gemstone trader, who was born to Afghan refugees in Peshawar in 1998, was relieved as he finally felt he would now be able would be able to enjoy the same rights as other people born in Pakistan. The people around him and the State have always treated him as an ‘Afghan refugee’, when he is neither Afghan nor a refugee. He hasn’t even been to Afghanistan and has spent most of his life in Peshawar.
After the PM’s statement, he submitted an application to NADRA in October 2019 but it was rejected on the basis of his parents’ ethnicity. He was told that the authority has no system to grant citizenship to people whose parents are not from Pakistan. He then filed an application in the Islamabad High Court in February seeking Pakistani citizenship. Notices were also issued to NADRA.
The case was last heard by Chief Justice Athar Minallah who had allowed the lawyers to filed written arguments. They were submitted on Saturday.
F’s lawyer, Umer Gillani, has argued that the petitioner has the right to citizenship under Article (2) of the Citizenship Act, 1951. The law states that “every person born in Pakistan after the commencement of this Act shall be a citizen of Pakistan by birth”. There are, however, only two exceptions to the rule: the children of diplomats and the children of enemy soldiers born on occupied territory.
NADRA is legally obliged to issue a CNIC to all people above the age of 18 who have obtained a proper birth certificate. Since the petitioner has fulfilled both conditions, NADRA’s refusal is violation of its legal duty under Section 10 of the NADRA Ordinance, it has been argued.
“He is a born and bred Pakistani citizen whose is simply being discriminated against on account of his parentage,” the petitioner’s lawyer said. The policy of denying citizenship status to children born in Pakistan “amounts to gross violation of fundamental rights guaranteed in the Constitution.”
The petitioner is “suffering” every day because he doesn’t have a CNIC. “He is unable to set up a bank account. He is unable to get a passport. He is unable to buy a motorbike in his own name. He is unable to get relevant business licences which would allow him to run a business. As a result, he is condemned to living the life of a second-class citizen who can only work for others but not run an enterprise of his own,” said his lawyer in written arguments.
Estimates suggest that around 2.5 million ‘refugees’ have settled in Pakistan following the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Many of them remain undocumented.
In Pakistan, however, many of them are seen with suspicion and are often accused of criminal activities. There also have been calls to ‘send them home’ even though they have been born and brought up in Pakistan.
On September 18, 2018 Prime Minister Imran Khan declared that children born in Pakistan to migrant parents have the automatic right to become citizens, making it the first time a Pakistani prime minister has taken such a stance on the issue of citizenship rights.
The Pakistan Citizenship Act, 1951 says that any person born in the country after 1951 is a citizen. “The people who came from Bangladesh, now their children have kids and still they don’t have citizenship,” said PM Khan on the floor of the National Assembly. These undocumented people are exploited. “A Pakistani worker earns Rs10,000 to Rs20,000. But, these people work for half the price.
“They don’t have Pakistani citizenship. They can’t leave the country. What will they continue to do? They are humans as well,” he said.
“If you don’t make the decision now, then when will you? You can’t send them away forcefully. These people have settled here; they got married here. We need a policy for them.” This is a human rights issue, the PM said.