Exit denied

20 Oct 2020

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BLACKLIST? It is more like a black hole that has devoured thousands of Pakistani passport holders wanting to travel. Interior Minister Ijaz Shah learnt that a large number of Pakistanis were prevented from going abroad because their names were on a travel blacklist. He asked the DG Immigration & Passports to hold an ‘immediate’ meeting of the review committee “to consider cases on merit and remove names after due process”. The results were eye-opening. No less than 5,807 citizens of this modern state were freed from the ban that had led to an automatic seizure of their passports. The committee apparently has the mandate to periodically review such cases. This time it was meeting after nearly four years — yes, four years of categorising people as unfit to go abroad. The lucky ones who managed to escape the ignominy belonged to the ‘B’ category of the travel blacklist, which is mostly comprised of names of Pakistanis deported for one reason or another. Those under Category ‘A’ are said to have been involved in more serious crimes such as terrorism, money laundering and anti-state activities. The committee is set to consider more cases in its “forthcoming periodic review as per recommendations of the agencies and departments concerned”. Not just that, the interior minister directed the committee to meet biannually so that it can review the cases of blacklisted individuals.

Bravo! A generous gesture, indeed, towards Pakistanis stuck on the list for years. But before rushing off to celebrate this victory of good sense, let’s ask the interior ministry a question that has often been asked before: under what legal authority is this list created and maintained? There is a four-decades-old Exit Control List that can take care of anyone not in the good books of the government. With the ECL there, any travel blacklist would appear to be surplus to the requirement of our gatekeepers, however eager they may be to block exits. Unfortunately, this black hole of a list still has some 36,617 individuals marked as not good for travel abroad. The suspicion is that the blacklist was created for the fast disposal of cases as opposed to going through the legal formalities that officials always find so cumbersome. If so, it’s just another sad manifestation of the same trait that encourages those in authority to break the law in the name of a speedy remedy, an example of which can be found in policemen staging hasty encounters.

Published in Dawn, October 20th, 2020