Humiliation, uncertainty plague staff of banned INGOs

Published June 13, 2015
A policeman stands guard outside the office of the international charity 'Save the Children' sealed by order of the authorities in Islamabad on June 11, 2015. — AFP
A policeman stands guard outside the office of the international charity 'Save the Children' sealed by order of the authorities in Islamabad on June 11, 2015. — AFP

ISLAMABAD: After over six months of unemployment, Murad Gul breathed a sigh of relief when he landed a job at 'Save the Children'. But in a cruel twist of fate, the government ordered the international aid group to pack up operations in Pakistan, rendering him and several others jobless.

Gul had previously served as a monitoring and evaluation manager at an international non-governmental organisation (INGO) in Islamabad. However, after completion of the project he had been working for on a contractual basis, Gul faced unemployment for more than six months until the brief stint at 'Save the Children'.

“Despite eight years of experience in the development sector, it was still difficult for me to get a job after my project ended,” Gul says.

"It is not easy to survive without a job in a city like Islamabad,” he laments.

Earlier this week, authorities ordered the agency to leave Pakistan saying the charity was “working against the country”.

Take a look: 'Save the Children' ordered to leave Pakistan: officials

Gul also has to bear the stigma of the NGO's alleged involvement in anti-Pakistan activities, with his relatives and friends labelling him a “traitor.”

He is only one of thousands facing redundancy after the government sealed operations of nine INGOs operating in the country.

Amad Abbasi, 32, was working with the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) as a programme officer for two years.

“My office administration told us that the government had not extended NRC’s no-objection certificate (NOC). They told us to look for jobs with other organisations since it was almost impossible to operate in Pakistan without an NOC extension,” Abbasi says.

Examine: Pakistan will not allow NGOs working against national interest: Nisar

Abbasi had been involved with rehabilitation of the internally-displaced people of North Waziristan in Bannu and Lakki Marwat.

“Do you think it is an easy task to get a job in a country like Pakistan where unemployment is such a plague?" he asks.

Save the Children say they work in more than 60 districts in Pakistan. — Photo courtesy: BBC
Save the Children say they work in more than 60 districts in Pakistan. — Photo courtesy: BBC

“It is unfortunate that the government did not share reasons for shutting us down. I am the sole breadwinner in my family; my parents and six siblings are dependent on my income,” he cries in anguish.

A bleak future

It was challenging for 35-year-old Rabia Imran — a mother of three children — to make ends meet after the death of her husband five years ago. But she persevered.

“I was a programme manager at Oxfam, which is why my children went to good schools,” she says.

Now she is out of a job, and worries about her three children. "The future appears very bleak."

Amna Saleem, 28, a resident of Rawalpindi, was employed as a project coordinator with the Danish Refugee Council in Islamabad.

“My father was a school teacher. Since his death in a road accident, I have been supporting my mother and three sisters,” she says.

News cameramen take footage of the office of the international charity 'Save the Children' sealed by order of Pakistani authorities in Islamabad on June 11, 2015 as a policeman stands guard outside the building. — AFP
News cameramen take footage of the office of the international charity 'Save the Children' sealed by order of Pakistani authorities in Islamabad on June 11, 2015 as a policeman stands guard outside the building. — AFP

Amna had graduated from a private university in Islamabad, while majoring in development studies.

“The government has alleged that some INGOs are working against Pakistan’s national interest. But no one from the government has thus far explained these allegations, which are vague in nature."

“It is unfair to close operations of such INGOs which were working not only for Pakistan’s development but also provided jobs to thousands of locals across the country.

Nine INGOs shut after intelligence reports

An official from the Economic Affairs Division (EAD) told Dawn.com that the ministry had refused to sign and extend agreements with nine INGOs after reports from intelligence agencies.

EAD official Itrat Zahara said the ministry had directed the management of these INGOs — Save the Children International, Oxfam GB, Norwegian Refugee Council, Danish Refugee Council, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, Save the Children USA, Mercy Corps, and Church World Service — to halt their operations across the country.

However, Oxfam GB in an email clarification told Dawn.com that its registration is in process. "As per the information we have from EAD, our registration is in process and we have not received any other information from any ministry and that we have not received any intimation to close our operation in Pakistan," the statement says.

Church World Service also maintains that no such notification has been intimated to them.

Meanwhile, an official from the federal interior ministry said a committee comprising representatives from the ministries of interior, foreign affairs and the EAD had rejected applications of nine INGOs to continue operations in Pakistan.

1,200 local employees working in 60 districts across Pakistan lost their jobs, says a Save the Children employee

The official said provincial home departments had already issued a list of prohibited areas, where the staff of INGOs could not operate without an NOC from their respective home departments. But sometimes, local staff visited forbidden areas for operational work without permission, which created panic among 'sensitive institutions'.

A senior member of Save the Children, seeking anonymity, said the government did not explain why his organisation was asked to abandon the country. Save the Children, he said, had been working in Pakistan’s health and education sectors since 1979.

A banner on 'Save the Children' website details the work done in Pakistan. — Photo courtesy: http://www.savethechildren.org
A banner on 'Save the Children' website details the work done in Pakistan. — Photo courtesy: http://www.savethechildren.org

He said around 1,200 local employees working in 60 districts across Pakistan lost their jobs following the government order to seal his INGO, adding that Save the Children was also providing salaries to over 800 staffers of its 10 partner organisations.

“We have 100 per cent local staffers at Save the Children, who are working in health, education, child protection, nutrition and refugees,” the member said.

The official memorandum issued to Save the Children to pack up its operations in Pakistan.
The official memorandum issued to Save the Children to pack up its operations in Pakistan.

Foreign Office Spokesman Qazi Khalilullah told Dawn.com that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had set up a high-powered inter-ministerial committee under the chairmanship of Special Assistant to the PM Tariq Fatemi on Foreign Affairs to recommend improvements in existing rules and procedures for screening, regulation and monitoring of INGOs.

This, the FO spokesman said, will ensure transparency, efficiency and compliance with the laid down framework and will optimise INGOs’ contribution to Pakistan’s national development goals, while ensuring respect for our culture, norms and security.

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