ISLAMABAD: Names of 5,807 individuals were struck off the travel blacklist after consultation with relevant agencies and departments, the interior ministry announced on Saturday.
The decision came about after Interior Minister retired Brig Ijaz Ahmad Shah took notice of the problems being faced by citizens whose names remained on the blacklist for a long time and directed the Immigration and Passports director general to immediately convene a meeting of the periodical review committee to consider cases on merit and remove names after the due process.
Accordingly, the committee reviewed the names of citizens falling in category B of the blacklist and proposed removal of 5,807 individuals from the list of 42,725 people. The names were then removed by the relevant authority.
The meeting was held on Oct 8 after a lapse of almost four years, the previous meeting having taken place on Dec 1, 2016.
Relief went mostly to those deportees who either travelled abroad on forged documents or were found involved in crime in host country
The committee will consider rest of the cases in its forthcoming periodic review as per recommendations of the agencies and departments concerned. In line with the directions of the interior minister, the committee will now meet biannually to review cases of blacklisted individuals.
Federal Minister Ijaz Shah has asked the director general of Passports and Immigration to take steps to facilitate citizens, noting that they formed a window for human resources being utilised across the world, sending valuable remittances back home.
He, however, directed him to take all necessary measures for ensuring transparency and compliance of local and international laws.
An official of the interior ministry told Dawn that there were two main blacklist categories. He said category ‘A’ included names of those involved in serious crime like terrorism, money laundering and anti-state activities whereas the ‘B’ category mainly had names of deportees who had either travelled abroad on forged documents or were found involved in crime in the host country.
Passports of everyone on the blacklist, however, stood cancelled, he added.
In January last year, the Senate had adopted a report of a house committee seeking abolition of the blacklist and other tools, except the Exit Control List.
Presentation of the Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s report was followed by a lengthy discussion on the issue of two separate lists — provisional nationality identification list and blacklist — which members from both sides of the aisle found to be contrary to Article 15 of the Constitution.
A minister had however observed that a tool should be available to the law enforcers to stop terrorists and criminals from leaving the country.
“Such decisions have to be taken on the spur of the moment,” he said, asserting that the law enforcers could not wait for a week for the federal cabinet’s approval to place the name of an individual on the ECL, particularly when he had made an attempt to flee the country late in the night.
Talking to Dawn, Senate Standing Committee on Law and Justice Chairman Javed Abbasi revealed that over one-and-a-half years ago, the interior secretary had assured the panel that all lists under which individuals were prevented from travelling abroad were being abolished, adding that the committee would take up the matter again.
He pointed out that the committee’s report that declared the blacklist illegal and unconstitutional and sought its immediate abolition had been adopted by the House.
“If these lists still exist, it is a breach of privilege of the Senate,” he added.
When contacted, an official of the Passports and Immigration department, candidly, conceded that no law governed the mechanism involving blacklist.
He said the blacklist was being maintained in pursuance of the Passport Manual 2006. The provision has remained part of the manual since 1957. However, some of its parts and categories were incorporated in the Passport Act, 1974, and the remaining continued to be part of the passport manuals, as and when issued.
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2020