There are at least 2.5 million people living in Pakistan who aren’t recognized by the state as residents of the country. A significant majority of them settled here decades ago and started families that are now in their second and third generations. Unfortunately, these children of the identity-deprived remain unable to secure a nationality even though they are fully eligible under Pakistan Citizenship Act 1951. More than half of this section of the population is in Sindh, belonging to the Bengali, Burmese and Afghani communities spread across the province. No government, past or present, has attempted to give this issue the attention it deserves as a deplorable form of racism and ethnic marginalization has been allowed to continue unchecked. There are of course genuine cases of illegal immigrants trying to find refuge in the country, and given our sensitive security paradigm, these aliens need to be traced out and removed. But those who genuinely deserve to have a National Identity Card (NIC) but are denied, should be accommodated. Not being a citizen creates a host of barriers to entry in education, work and even medical treatment. The Covid-19 pandemic has given an entirely new dimension to this problem as anyone not in possession of a valid NIC cannot get vaccinated anywhere in the country, at not least legally through the government’s vaccination program.
This should be a major concern for the state that is presumably doing its best in the fight against the virus that continues to spread when left unchecked, taking lives in the process. Therefore, while the larger issue of rationalizing identity-deprivation in general needs to be addressed immediately, a more pressing problem of vaccinating them should take priority. That many of them do not occupy cities, rather small villages, means that a breakout in such underdeveloped parts of the country, lacking in even a basic medical infrastructure, is a possibility and a serious risk. It is imperative that the government does not turn away willing recipients from vaccination centers only because they do not possess an ID card. This is not an immigration problem at the moment, it is a health emergency.