The land, where you were born, were brought up and where you have toiled—you have a right to it. You also owe this land a great deal.
All civilized countries acknowledge this fundamental natural principle. Europe goes to the extent of recognizing birth within its territory as the only standard for the purpose. But even though the world has shrunk to become a global village, there are countries where racial biases and a particular national narrative flies in the face of this natural process.
The worst victims of this prejudice are the young people whose ancestors migrated. People have always moved to other lands to seek a better life, or at least a safer one. To deny this reality is to rebel against a natural phenomenon and centuries-old human behavior.
The United Nations acknowledges this fact of life. Member states cannot extradite refugees who immigrated for fear of death and deprivation.
So, with emigration being accepted as a matter of fact, second and third generations of refugees should not be blamed.
The worst example of disenfranchisement is that of the Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar. These people have been living in the northeastern province of Rakhine for the past two centuries and for several generations. The Myanmar government disowns them as ‘Bangladeshi refugees’ and the Bangladesh government declares them of ‘Burmese-origin’.
There’s no such condition in our country. But millions of Bangladeshi, Burmese and Afghan youth, who have never even seen a map of ‘Burma’, Bangladesh or Afghanistan, are ‘aliens’ who do not possess citizenship of any country. This is truly tragic.
The worst insult is that the doors of higher education are closed on them. These people cannot be legally employed in Pakistan. They can’t open a business or a bank account. They can’t get a gas connection or mobile phone services.
There are at least five kinds of refugees in Pakistan.
1. Those who migrated to Pakistan after 1947.
2. Those who left ‘eastern Pakistan’ in 1971.
3. Those stepped into Pakistan after crossing the Line of Control from Indian-Administered Kashmir after 1988.
4. Afghans who had to abandon their country after 1979.
5. The last are the people who illegally migrated into Pakistan from Bangladesh, Burma and other countries and have not been able to go back ever since.
Our state recognizes the first three types of ‘refugees’ as Pakistanis. There is a legal ambiguity about the third and fourth types.
Under the citizenship rules of 1951, the children of the fourth and fifth types of refugees who are born in Pakistan are considered Pakistanis.
But, subsequent citizenship laws make the father’s Pakistani citizenship mandatory if you want to get a computerized national identity card.
A majority of Pakistanis consider these “aliens” a burden to the country. This is sheer ignorance. And you cannot understand them without going to where they live.
In one such attempt, I met many Afghan ‘aliens’ between 18 and 22 years. Their grandparents had emigrated while they and their parents were born in Pakistan.
While speaking to them, I realized that I knew much more about Afghanistan than these young people. Let alone their native village or area, the Afghan immigrants even did not know the colour of Afghanistan’s flag, the name of its currency and TV stars. They did not even knew about the Afghan president.
They have associations with all things Pakistani. Independence day celebrations, politicians, players and stars are all part of their everyday lives.
Most of them do menial jobs to be able to support themselves and their families. By denying them nationality, we have kept them out of the tax net.
It is also a joke that those who support the repatriation of Afghan and Bengali ‘aliens’, themselves want to migrate to the US and Europe. They apply for a passport in the fifth year. Strange that they prove their patriotism by declaring Afghans and the Bengalis criminals, but if “white” people treat any Asian the same way, they call them “racists”.
The writer is a Karachi-based blogger and a social media activist.