Parliamentary panel to decide citizenship for refugee children


—Shireen Mazari says House welcome to debate issue before parliamentary panel takes up matter


ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Tuesday gave in to fierce criticism by the opposition parties over granting of citizenship to children of Afghan and Bengali migrants born in Pakistan and transferred the matter to a parliamentary committee to devise a joint strategy in consultation with the opposition parties.

The issue was raised in the National Assembly jointly by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Balochistan National Party-Mengal (BNP-M) – an ally of the government – through a call to attention notice.

The issue came to the fore after Prime Minister Imran Khan announced that the government will grant citizenship to the children of Afghan and Bengali migrants, drawing the ire of opposition parties.

Minister for Human Rights Dr Shireen Mazari announced that the government would welcome the House to debate the matter in detail before the parliamentary body takes it up.

“I hope a meaningful debate would be conducted for a better solution,” said Dr Mazari while responding to concerns raised by the lawmakers.

Refuting claims made by the opposition that the prime minister had taken another U-turn over the matter, the minister said that the previous governments had taken many U-turns in their agreements on grant of citizenship to refugees.

She also assured the House that the status of Afghan refugees and immigrants would be determined in consultation with the opposition parties, claiming that PTI’s approach was purely in the interest of the nation. She vowed to take all the aspects into account, including legal, political and humanitarian to finalise the status of refugees born on Pakistani soil.

“The previous governments had not collected the data of refugees living in Pakistan but we have started the process of data collection of refugees and immigrants,” she said.

She said that international conventions, including Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s human rights commission, demand immigrants’ rights, whilst they also have the model of the state of Madina present in the Islamic history.

PPP’s Nafeesa Shah lamented that government functionaries quote example of the state of Madina in every matter, questioning, if they knew Saudi Arabia does not give nationality to any foreigner.

While advising the PPP member to go through history, Mazari said that the mention of state of Madina does not refer to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

Shah hit back saying that the prime minister is unaware of Karachi’s sensitivity and its natives.

At this, Mazari said, “Thankfully, they felt Karachi’s pain. The PPP has been ruling in Sindh for the past 10 years.”

BNP-M chief Sardar Akhtar Mengal, a government ally, said that there was a need to form a national policy over the issue through a parliamentary panel after a thorough debate on the matter.

He lamented that the government was considered granting citizenship to Afghani and Bengali refugees on humanitarian grounds while the people of Balochistan people were not even being treated as human beings in their own country.

He regretted that illegal immigrants can continue living in the country after paying a Rs500 fine and go on accumulating property worth millions.

Later, taking part in the budget debate, Syed Naveed Qamar of the PPP criticised increase in the prices of gas and power, besides increasing tax on bank transactions, saying that the government had done nothing to overcome budget deficit.

Qamar also demanded that if the government plans to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), it should tell the people and prepare them for the conditions that will likely be imposed by the monetary body.

Responding to the opposition’s criticism, Minister of State for Revenue Hammad Azhar said that the government wanted growth with development and intended to bring improvement in the social sector. He said the government’s economic policy will not be financed through deficit financing.

“The government’s priority is to rescue economy from the current crisis. Regulatory duties have been imposed on luxury items only to suppress imports and the same modus operandi was used by the previous governments to compress them,” he said.

The state minister said that the budgetary proposals envisage steps to help generate over fifty per cent of the revenue from enforcement measures and going after the non-filers and tax evaders.

He also criticised the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government for pushing the country into a debt trap and said that the national kitty was total empty due to steps taken by the previous government, leaving the present government to use debt servicing.

“State-owned enterprises were enduring the losses of Rs500 billion annually and the previous government did nothing about it,” he said, adding that the previous government had also taken benefit from a decrease in oil prices internationally.

He said that the current account deficit had widened due to decrease in exports and increase in imports. The minister said that regulatory duty had been imposed on the import of unnecessary items to benefit the country’s economy.

Taking part in the debate, Dr Ayesha Ghous Pasha said the new budgetary measures would have a negative impact on the overall growth rate.