Pakistan sets up 49 holding centers for undocumented migrants ahead of deportation

Pakistan sets up 49 holding centers for undocumented migrants ahead of deportation
Afghan refugees along with their belongings depart for Afghanistan from a refugee camp in Islamabad on October 31, 2023. (AFP)
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Updated 01 November 2023
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Pakistan sets up 49 holding centers for undocumented migrants ahead of deportation

Pakistan sets up 49 holding centers for undocumented migrants ahead of deportation
  • 1.7 Afghans and other foreigners living in Pakistan without documents or registration ordered to leave by Nov. 1 or face deportation and arrest
  • Anyone found staying in the country without authorization from Wednesday will be arrested and sent to deportation centers, interior minister says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s deadline for undocumented migrants to voluntarily leave the country expired today, Wednesday, and the government said it would start rounding up from tomorrow, Thursday, those staying illegally and send them to 49 holding centers around the country.
Pakistan last month gave foreigners without documents or registration until Nov. 1 to leave or face deportation and arrest. The government has set up deportation centers for undocumented migrants, including an estimated 1.7 million Afghans, and anyone found staying in the country without authorization from today, Wednesday, will be arrested and sent to one of the centers, the interior ministry has said.
“The Ministry of Interior has set up 49 holding area points across the country to help these people respectfully cross the border after thorough screening,” state-run Radio Pakistan reported.

“36 holding centers have been established in all 36 districts of Punjab, three in Peshawar, Haripur and Landi Kotal districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, two in Kemari and Malir districts of Sindh and three in Quetta, Chagai and Pishin districts of Balochistan. Similarly, one holding center each has been established in Islamabad Federal Capital and Gilgit.”
Undocumented Afghans can cross over from the Chaman, Noor Wahab, Badini and Barab Chah crossing points in Balochistan and Torkham, Kharlachi, Ghulam Khan and Angoor Adda points in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.
“From November 2 onwards, they [undocumented foreigners] will be sent to our holding centers. We will keep them at the holding centers for two to three days,” Interior Minister Sarfaraz Bugti said in a video message hours before the expiry of the Nov 1. deadline.
“We will try to provide them with food and health facilities and after that we will deport them through the border of our choice which will be in keeping with our security [requirements] and convenience.”
More than 130,000 Afghans have returned home since the crackdown was announced on Oct. 3, according to officials. 
Although the government insists its expulsion order does not specifically target Afghans, they form the largest number of undocumented foreigners in the South Asian nation. Around 1.7 million Afghans in Pakistan, out of a total four million, are undocumented, according to the government. Many of them have lived in Pakistan their entire lives and never visited Afghanistan.
The sudden expulsion threat came after suicide bombings this year that the government said involved Afghans, though without providing evidence. Islamabad has also blamed Afghans for smuggling and other militant attacks as well as petty crimes and says Afghan nationals were found to be involved in attacks against government and the army, including 14 of this year’s 24 suicide bombings.
"NO PERPETUAL BAN"
The country hosts millions of Afghans who fled their country during the 1979-1989 Soviet occupation. The numbers swelled after the Taliban seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021.
The government says those with Proof of Registration (PoR) and Afghan Citizenship Cards (ACC) will not be expelled by Nov. 1.
On Tuesday, Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar announced there was no “perpetual ban” on the return of Afghan nationals to Pakistan. 
“We have not placed a perpetual ban on them that they cannot come back to Pakistan after today,” Kakar told journalists.
“They should go to their countries, get their travel documents issued from their states, get visas from our mission there. Whether they want to come for educational purposes, for business, whatever their purpose may be, we will facilitate that.”
The government was only against “irregulated” travelers, Kakar added.
Western embassies and the United Nations have urged Pakistan to identify and protect Afghans at risk of persecution at home.
“Amnesty International strongly reiterates its call to the Government of Pakistan to immediately reverse its decision to forcibly deport unregistered Afghan refugees ahead of the deadline set for tomorrow,” the group said in a statement.
It added that Pakistan must meet its international legal obligations including the principle of non-refoulement and stop the crackdown against, and harassment of, Afghan refugees across the country.
“Amnesty International is also calling on the international community to financially support Pakistan for hosting Afghan refugees, and to share the responsibility to provide protection to those fleeing persecution in Afghanistan,” the statement added.
Amnesty International said lives and rights are at stake due to “the collective failure of the Pakistan Government and the international community to share the responsibility for their protection,” stressing the risks for women, journalists, human rights defenders, protesters, artists, and former government officials and security personnel.


WHO warns of falsified cough syrup ingredients seized in Pakistan

WHO warns of falsified cough syrup ingredients seized in Pakistan
Updated 21 sec ago
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WHO warns of falsified cough syrup ingredients seized in Pakistan

WHO warns of falsified cough syrup ingredients seized in Pakistan
  • Five contaminated batches of propylene glycol falsely labelled as made by Dow Chemical units in Asia and Europe
  • Contaminated cough syrups linked to deaths of more than 300 children globally since late 2022

The World Health Organization issued an alert on Monday warning drugmakers of five contaminated batches of propylene glycol, an ingredient used in medicinal syrups, that appear to have been falsely labelled as manufactured by Dow Chemical units in Asia and Europe.

The Drug Regulatory Authority of Pakistan (DRAP) issued three alerts between January and March over high levels of ethylene glycol (EG), an industrial solvent known to be toxic, found in drums purportedly made by subsidiaries of Dow Chemical in Thailand, Germany and Singapore.

DRAP sent suspect drums of propylene glycol, a sweet-tasting alcohol used in over-the-counter medicines such as cough syrups, for testing. The samples were found to have EG contamination of 0.76-100 percent, according to the WHO. International manufacturing standards say only trace amounts of EG, below 0.1 percent, can be considered safe.

Contaminated cough syrups made in India and Indonesia have been linked to deaths of more than 300 children globally since late 2022. The medicines were found to contain high levels of EG and diethylene glycol, leading to acute kidney injury and death. In the Indonesia case, authorities found that one supplier had placed false Dow Thailand labels onto drums containing EG that it sold to a distributor for pharmaceutical use.

Several of the batches seized by DRAP were labelled as having been manufactured in 2023, the WHO said, months after the agency issued a global alert calling on drugmakers to verify the quality of their suppliers.

The WHO said Dow confirmed that the materials identified in its Monday alert and found by DRAP were not manufactured or supplied by the company.

“The propylene glycol materials identified in this alert are considered to have been deliberately and fraudulently mislabelled,” the WHO said, noting batches may have been distributed to other countries and still be in storage.

Dow did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The WHO alert comes the same week regulators in Tanzania and Rwanda joined Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa to recall batches of Johnson & Johnson children’s cough syrup after Nigeria said it found high levels of diethylene glycol, an industrial solvent known to be toxic.

The batch of Benylin Paediatric syrup recalled was made by J&J in South Africa in May 2021, although Kenvue now owns the brand after a spin-off from J&J last year.


Pakistan court strikes down clause setting gender-based age criteria for marriage

Pakistan court strikes down clause setting gender-based age criteria for marriage
Updated 15 April 2024
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Pakistan court strikes down clause setting gender-based age criteria for marriage

Pakistan court strikes down clause setting gender-based age criteria for marriage
  • The verdict was given on a petition seeking amendments to Child Marriage Act over gender-based distinction
  • The court asks the Punjab government to issue a revised version of 1929 law in 15 days, based on its judgment

LAHORE: A high court in Pakistan on Monday struck down a section of the Child Marriage Act, 1929 that dealt with gender-based age distinction and ordered the government in the Punjab province to revise the legislation.

The verdict was given on a petition seeking amendments to the Child Marriage Act over apparent distinction on the basis of gender. The petitioner had stated in his petition that the Constitution of Pakistan granted equal rights to men and women.

The Lahore High Court (LHC) declared as “discriminatory” the 95-year-old act’s Section 2(a) and (b), which respectively fixed 18 and 16 years as legal ages for boys and girls for marriage. 

“In sum, the words in section 2(a) viz . ‘if a male ….and if a female is under sixteen years of age’ being unconstitutional are held to be without lawful authority and of no legal effect. They are struck down,” Judge Shahid Karim wrote in his five-page verdict.

“The Govt. of Punjab (its relevant department) is directed to issue the revised version of 1929 Act (based on this judgment) within the next fifteen days and shall also upload that version on its website for information.”

Though the aforementioned law had been replaced by the Punjab Child Marriage Restraint (Amendment) Act, 2015 to criminalize child marriage in Punjab, Pakistan’s most populous province.

Women in Pakistan are often deprived of their basic rights and forced to marry against their will, in some cases even before reaching the legal age for marriage.

According to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), about 500 women are killed each year by their family members over accusations that their “honor” has been violated, which are often triggered when women marry by choice.

The court observed there was a need to take effective steps against child marriages as the marriage laws in the country were meant to primarily keep in view the “social, economic and educational factors rather than religious.”

In his verdict, the judge referred to Article 25 of the constitution, which says: “All citizens are equal before law and are entitled to equal protection of law. There shall be no discrimination on the basis of sex.”

“The definition of ‘child’ in the 1929 Act while making a distinction on the basis of age, is not based on an intelligible criteria having nexus with the object of the law,” the court ruled.

“The definition is indeed a special provision for the protection of women but in the process it tends to afford greater protection to males by keeping their age of marriage higher than females.”


Pakistan PM urges increase in renewable energy resources to cut oil import bill

Pakistan PM urges increase in renewable energy resources to cut oil import bill
Updated 15 April 2024
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Pakistan PM urges increase in renewable energy resources to cut oil import bill

Pakistan PM urges increase in renewable energy resources to cut oil import bill
  • Pakistan lacks adequate resources to run its oil- and gas-powered plants and imports most of its energy needs
  • The country is currently faced with a balance of payments crisis, record inflation and steep currency devaluation

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Monday directed the Pakistani energy ministry to maximize utilization of renewable energy resources in order to reduce the country’s oil import bill, Pakistani state media reported.

The remarks came at a meeting he presided over to review the country’s power sector, according to a report published by the Radio Pakistan broadcaster.

The prime minister said that oil imports worth billions of dollars could be controlled by using alternative resources like solar, wind and hydel power.

“The country currently imports oil worth 27 billion dollars to meet its power and transportation needs,” Sharif was quoted as saying in the report.

“In the future, only clean and low-cost hydropower and renewable plants will be installed in the country.”

Pakistan, which has been struggling with a balance of payments crisis, record inflation and steep currency devaluation, lacks adequate resources to run its oil- and gas-powered plants and imports most of its energy needs.

The South Asian country is currently looking to secure cheaper energy imports and alternate ways to lessen the cost of power generation.

The prime minister asked authorities to speed up efforts for foreign investment in solar energy projects as well as to accelerate the process of privatization of power generation companies and auction of inefficient power houses.

He lauded the performance of the Punjab government in the ongoing drive against power theft and expressed hope that other provinces would also follow suit to overcome the challenge.

“All possible measures are being taken to reduce the per unit price of electricity for the common man,” PM Sharif added.


Finance minister discusses investment plans with US-Pakistani businessmen in Washington 

Finance minister discusses investment plans with US-Pakistani businessmen in Washington 
Updated 15 April 2024
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Finance minister discusses investment plans with US-Pakistani businessmen in Washington 

Finance minister discusses investment plans with US-Pakistani businessmen in Washington 
  • Muhammad Aurangzeb arrived in the US on Sunday to participate in spring meetings of the IMF, World Bank
  • Pakistan is in need of external financing to shore up forex reserves to escape another macroeconomic crisis

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Finance Minister Muhammad Aurangzeb on Monday met with a delegation from the US-Pakistan Business Council (USPBC) in Washington D.C. and discussed with them his government’s commitment to improving business climate in Pakistan.

Aurangzeb arrived in Washington D.C. on Sunday to participate in spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, amid Islamabad’s efforts to reach an agreement with the IMF for a new loan program by June this year.

The South Asian country of more than 240 million people remains in desperate need of external financing to shore up its foreign exchange reserves and escape yet another macroeconomic crisis after it barely averted a default last year, thanks to a $3 billion IMF program.

In order to overcome the present economic woes, Islamabad has been making efforts to attract foreign direct investment to keep the $350 billion economy afloat.

“During the meeting, the Finance Minister highlighted the government’s dedication to attracting both foreign and domestic investments in key sectors,” Aurangzeb’s ministry said in a statement. “These sectors include agriculture, IT, mines & minerals, and energy.”

Pakistan's Federal Minister for Finance and Revenue, Muhammad Aurangzeb (5L), meets with a delegation from the US Pakistan Business Council in Washington, US, on April 15, 2024. (Pakistan Finance Ministry)

The statement came days after Aurangzeb met with Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to discuss Pakistan’s economic strategy ahead of his meetings with IMF and World Bank officials.

“He discussed with the prime minister his scheduled meetings with the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and other organizations during the visit,” the Pakistani finance ministry said. “The overall economic situation of the country was also discussed in the meeting.”

Pakistan this month completed a final review of its current $3 billion IMF deal that cleared the way for the disbursement of a final tranche of nearly $1.1 billion. The South Asian country is now looking for another bailout program.

Last week, IMF chief Kristalina Georgieva confirmed Pakistan was in discussions with her organization on a potential follow-up loan program to its nine-month, $3 billion stand-by arrangement (SBA).

The IMF chief recognized Pakistan’s commitment to structural economic reforms during an event at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington. She, however, noted that some important issues, including the tax base and overall economic transparency, were yet to be addressed by Pakistani authorities.


Saudi foreign minister arrives in Pakistan on two-day official visit

Saudi foreign minister arrives in Pakistan on two-day official visit
Updated 15 April 2024
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Saudi foreign minister arrives in Pakistan on two-day official visit

Saudi foreign minister arrives in Pakistan on two-day official visit
  • Prince Faisal accorded red-carpet welcome at Nur Khan air base, received by Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar
  • Former diplomats, analysts say visit shows further deepening of relations between two brotherly countries

ISLAMABAD: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan arrived in Pakistan today, Monday, on a two-day visit aimed at enhancing bilateral economic cooperation, with local media widely showing footage of the Saudi official being received by Pakistani Foreign Minister Ishaq Dar.

The Saudi foreign minister’s visit comes a little over a week after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman met Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif in Makkah and reaffirmed the Kingdom’s commitment to expedite an investment package worth $5 billion that was previously discussed.

Upon his arrival at the Noor Khan air base in the garrison town of Rawalpindi, the Saudi foreign minister, who is leading a high-level delegation comprising several top ministers, was accorded a red-carpet welcome by Pakistani officials.

“A week after Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s visit to Saudi Arabia (April 6-8), a high-level delegation of Saudi Arabia is coming to Pakistan,” the Pakistani information ministry said in a statement shared with journalists.

“The Saudi delegation will consult on the next stages of investment and implementation issues,” the statement added, saying Saudi Arabia’s planned investment in the Reko Diq gold and copper mining project would also be discussed during the visit.

Pakistan's foreign minister Ishaq Dar (right) receives his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan (left), at Nur Khan air base in Rawalpindi, Pakistan on April 15, 2024. (Government of Pakistan)

On Sunday, Pakistani state media reported Saudi Arabia was likely to invest $1 billion in the mine project in Pakistan’s southwestern Balochistan province, one of the world’s largest underdeveloped copper-gold areas.

Riyadh was also interested in investing in agriculture, trade, energy, minerals, IT, transport and other sectors in Pakistan, the statement said.

“As a result of this visit, Pakistan’s export capacity will increase, joint ventures will be launched and new opportunities will be paved.”

The Pakistani foreign office said last week the Saudi delegation would comprise the foreign minister, minister of water and agriculture, minister of industry and mineral resources and deputy minister of investment as well as senior officials from the Saudi energy ministry and the Saudi Fund for General Investments.

The Saudi delegation is expected to hold meetings with the Pakistani president, the prime minister, the foreign minister and other ministers, as well as the army chief and members of the apex committee of Pakistan’s Special Investment Facilitation Council, set up last year to oversee all foreign funding.

The Saudi government has not yet commented on the agenda of the visit.

Former diplomats and analysts said the visit showed further deepening of relations between the two brotherly countries.

“This is a high-powered Saudi delegation led by the foreign minister and it is purely focused on investments in Pakistan,” Javed Hafeez, a former Pakistani diplomat, told Arab News, pointing to a recent indication by Saudi Arabia to expedite $5 billion investment in Pakistan.

“This delegation will also be exploring different fields and options during the visit to materialize the investment pledges as quickly as possible.”

Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s former foreign secretary, termed the visit “very significant,” saying the potential Saudi investment in Pakistan was a “welcoming step” in the Saudi-Pakistan friendship.

“The Saudi’s investments under the banner of the SIFC will be safe and secure, and this will help further deepen the ties between the two countries,” Chaudhry told Arab News.

Cash-strapped Pakistan desperately needs to shore up its foreign reserves and signal to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that it can continue to meet requirements for foreign financing that has been a key demand in previous bailout packages. Pakistan’s finance minister, Muhammad Aurangzeb, is currently in Washington to participate in spring meetings of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank and discuss a new bailout program. The last loan deal expired this month.

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia enjoy strong trade, defense and cultural ties. The Kingdom is home to over 2.7 million Pakistani expatriates and the top source of remittances to the cash-strapped South Asian country.

Saudi Arabia has often come to cash-strapped Pakistan’s aid in the past, regularly providing it oil on deferred payments and offering direct financial support to help stabilize its economy and shore up its forex reserves.

Last year, Saudi Arabia’s finance minister said the Kingdom was changing the way it provides assistance to allies, shifting from previously giving direct grants and deposits unconditionally.

“We used to give direct grants and deposits without strings attached and we are changing that. We are working with multilateral institutions to actually say we need to see reforms,” Finance Minister Mohammed Al-Jadaan said at the World Economic Forum in Davos last January.

“We are taxing our people, we are expecting also others to do the same, to do their efforts. We want to help but we want you also to do your part.”

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states like the United Arab Emirates and Qatar have increasingly moved toward investing rather than extending direct financial aid.