ISLAMABAD: Millions of Pakistanis abroad could become stateless as a new rule putting an end to the non-machine readable passports comes into force at the end of September, said the Foreign Office on Tuesday.
“Millions of Pakistanis, especially those abroad, will be technically knocked out and become stateless when handwritten passports would be unacceptable under the new rule set by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO),” Foreign Office Additional Secretary Irfan Shami told the National Assembly Standing Committee on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development.
Though not on the agenda, the matter relating to non-machine readable passports expiring after September was taken up by the members at a meeting of the committee.
FO says Pakistanis abroad who still don’t have machine-readable passports can face trouble in returning home
The meeting was informed that the ICAO had set November 2015 as the deadline after which computerised passports would become the universal requirement. The new rule was set by ICAO to speed up travel time and strengthen security.
However, the deadline was extended to October 1, 2016.
Mr Shami complained to the members that since February the Foreign Office had been asking the Ministry of Interior and Nadra to take up the matter. However, neither the ministry nor Nadra has so far responded to the concern.
“The Foreign Office urges this committee to direct the Ministry of Interior to take necessary steps or else many Pakistanis will face a lot of problems. Since the ICAO has asked all the countries not to accept handwritten documents, Pakistanis abroad with non-machine readable passports will become stateless and face problems returning to their country.”
The official said 82 Pakistan missions abroad were issuing machine-readable passports while in about 25 countries the service was not available.
He did not state how many Pakistanis were still without the machine-readable passports.
However, the chairman of the committee, MNA Mir Aamir Ali Khan Magsi of the PPP, did not pass any directions.
The meeting also took up the issue of 8,500 Pakistanis who had not received their salaries for 10 months in Saudi Arabia. It became a matter of concern when these workers could not get food and were denied health facilities in the 20 camps in various cities of Saudi Arabia.
Minister for Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development Pir Sadruddin Shah informed the meeting that two companies which employed the 8,500 Pakistanis were facing cash flow problems after a dip in the oil prices.
Most of the members regretted that the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis had failed to address the concerns of the workers.
“God knows how many more days would have gone by had the issue not been highlighted in the media. Action should be taken against the officials in the Pakistani embassy in Saudi Arabia for not helping their people,” said JUIF MNA Aliya Kamran.
However, the minister for overseas Pakistanis informed the meeting that the Saudi government was cooperating with the Pakistani government and the Pakistani embassy was doing its best to assist the employees.
“I would like to caution the committee to place its faith in the ministry that is doing whatever it can. Pakistan’s relations with the Saudi government can be affected if this issue gets blown out of proportion,” the minister maintained.