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Undocumented Pakistani immigrants hide in the shadows in Paris

Seeking economic opportunities and social security in European countries is an empty dream without a legal status
Updated Nov 29, 2018 02:52pm
Refugees and migrants sleep in makeshift tents across France as they wait to seek asylum. Image: Reuters
Refugees and migrants sleep in makeshift tents across France as they wait to seek asylum. Image: Reuters

Nestled in the safety of a shared Parisian apartment, 28-year old Muhammad Khan recounts his perilous voyage to European shores on a boat that nearly capsized.

Without any prior nautical training, Muhammad Khan, an illegal Afghan immigrant sailed through the Mediterranean Sea with three others on their way from Turkey to Greece.

“We saw death from very close,” Khan says.

"We were crying and holding on to each other to keep the boat straight.”

Once in Greece, Khan and his three colleagues — one of whom is Pakistani — made their way to Paris.

For the last three years, these undocumented migrants have been trying to survive each day in an African dominated neighborhood of Paris that is notorious for crime. And much like other undocumented settlements all over Parisian suburbs, their locality is overcrowded with poor living conditions.

Every year, thousands of Pakistani and Afghan nationals make desperate attempts to reach European countries via Iran and Turkey. Some are in search of better jobs; others are fleeing discrimination and persecution.

Few are fortunate enough to succeed in reaching Europe and make their way beyond.

And even then, there is no guarantee for the life and opportunity they had desperately hoped for.

Out of the frying pan into the fire

"We are yet to be granted asylum," says one immigrant, reluctant to be named.

Fearing deportation, many undocumented settlers are not allowed basic healthcare, education and other necessary social services because they either lack paperwork or have their applications stuck in bureaucratic intricacies.

To make things worse, the French National Assembly recently passed a controversial immigration bill that shortens asylum application deadlines, doubles the time for which illegal migrants can be detained to 90 days, and introduces a one-year prison sentence for entering France illegally.

Critics say immigrants are treated as criminals. And the undocumented immigrants themselves have to constantly keep a low profile for fear of being identified and deported.

And if deportation is in someway avoided, a fractious public opinion and negative attitudes towards refugees, asylum seekers and immigrants makes it much harder to maintain legal residence.

Trouble at home, a struggle abroad

Since January 2016, over 65,000 Pakistanis have been intercepted by Iran and handed over to levies and FIA at the Pak-Iran border, an FIA source informs Dawn.com.

Most of the hapless Pakistanis who decide to undertake this arduous journey belong to Punjab’s Gujrat, Mandi Bahauddin, Gujranwala, Bahawalpur and other areas.

The officer goes on to say that a worsening law and order situation in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa has also forced many to leave Pakistan for the sake of economic and social security abroad.

Additionally, a large number of Afghan nationals also use unfrequented routes through the porous 900 kilometer long border between Pakistan and Iran to sneak in and out illegally. Most of these Afghans belong to the volatile South-western region in Afghanistan where the Taliban have launched deadly attacks in the aftermath of the fall of the Afghan government since October 2001, marking the beginning of the insurgency.

"We can’t go forward with our lives nor back to our homes," a Pakistani asylum seeker, Israr Ahmed tells Dawn.com.

Israr had applied for political asylum in France after his request was rejected by the Swedish government. But since there has been no progress on his application, he now plans to move on to Germany, a refugee friendly country, to apply for asylum.

Many like Israr have cases regarding their legal status pending in the French courts — unless they have already been rejected.

Interestingly, many Pakistanis and Afghans end up marrying older European women for the sake of nationality.

"The married ones are in trouble now," the immigrants say in unison.

They say Pakistani men enter marriages with EU passport holders but fail to recognise how different their cultures and traditions are. "A man is not able to stop his European wife from going out of the house," says one immigrant, recognising that the culture allows women to have agency which women back home may not have.

Fearing deportation, many undocumented settlers are not allowed basic healthcare, education and other necessary social services. Image: LCI, 2018
Fearing deportation, many undocumented settlers are not allowed basic healthcare, education and other necessary social services. Image: LCI, 2018

The pressure of surviving in a big city

With a rent of 1200 euros per month (approximately RsRs180,000), Muhammad Khan and his colleagues struggle to keep a roof over their heads.

There is no chance of getting a formal job because Khan and his colleagues lack licenses and work permits that allow them to legally find jobs in Paris. So they have to make ends meet by doing odd jobs — or they starve.

"We all are doing cash based work and operate in the black market and pay no taxes," Khan informed Dawn.com. In such cases the transaction is neither recorded nor reported.

According to him, their daily jobs include selling small but expensive items at slashed prices. A pack of cigarette that costs about 10 euros is then unlawfully sold at 5 euros or less on street corners.

He continues, “What we can do and eat is all thanks to the police that lets us earn a living. They are also human beings after all.”

Khan and his peers have been repeatedly arrested and then released by the Paris police on humanitarian grounds.

And once they are released, the migrants take their unauthorized trade to another district under the jurisdiction of a different police station.

But most illegal and undocumented immigrants and settlers survive on assistance from the outside; charity organizations are kind enough to provide food and other necessary commodities to them.

"Weekly we get 12 milk packs from one organization," Israr Ahmed says.

He continues with a somber smile, “it’s almost like begging.”


Names have been changed to protect the identities.