Questions raised over UK-Pakistan Immigration return deal

LONDON: The British government has signed a new agreement under which foreign criminals and immigration offenders will be returned from the United Kingdom to Pakistan.

Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the development on Wednesday after signing the new deal with Pakistan’s Interior Secretary Yousaf Naseem Khokhar and the Pakistan High Commissioner in UK, Moazzam Ahmad Khan.

A Pakistan High Commission spokesman told reporters that it is a reciprocal agreement and applies equally to both countries.

This is the fifth returns agreement the UK Home Office has signed in 15 months under its “New Plan for Immigration”. The UK has signed similar agreements with India, Nigeria, and Albania.

The implementation of the new policy will not focus on those Pakistani who are dual nationals — carrying both Pakistani and British identities.

The new policy, diplomats have told, will affect those Pakistani passport holders who are either involved in immigration offences or organised crimes, including sex grooming and paedophilia.

The Home Office said in a statement that Pakistan nationals make up the seventh largest number of foreign criminals in prisons in England and Wales, totalling nearly 3% of the foreign national offender population.

Since January 2019, the UK has removed 10,741 foreign national offenders globally (upto the year ending December 2021).

The agreement underlines both countries’ ongoing commitment to tackling the issue of illegal migration and the significant threats it poses to both nations, said the Home Office.

The agreement also includes ongoing work to improve and expand UK-Pakistani law enforcement cooperation.

A Pakistani diplomat who took part in negotiation with the UK government shared that UK’s High Commissioner to Pakistan Christian Turner had been pushing for the agreement for quite some time.

He said that the UK has been sending foreign criminals to Pakistan for about ten years under Mutual Legal Assistance (MLA) and on an individual case basis but this is the first time a formal state-to-state level agreement has been signed.

When asked what was in it for Pakistan, the diplomat said that Pakistan has asked the UK government to relax its visa regime for students and visitors. The diplomat said the UK government has agreed to look into this matter.

However, UK Immigration lawyers raised several objections to the deal between Pakistan and the UK and termed it as favouring the UK.

Mohammad Amjad, a well-known immigration expert, told that Pakistan does not have the infrastructure to support the convicts once they are back in Pakistan.

The criminals being returned cannot be held under Pakistan law and no restrictions can be imposed on them by Pakistani authorities.

He asked: “One must question just how Pakistan will keep an eye on these criminals and the risks that they will pose to the public. After all, it is because these individuals are a risk to the UK public that they are being deported to Pakistan. The UK has consistently and selfishly refused to share information about offenders, their offences and the risks these individuals will pose inside Pakistan.

“The Pakistani authorities will therefore have no idea regarding the nature of the risks these deportees will pose. Hence there is a real risk of a repeat of the paedophile case of Sohail Ayaz.”

Labour Party councillor and Immigration lawyer Moazzam Ali Sandhu said it appeared that the agreement was signed without Pakistan securing guarantees.

He said that the Home Office press release mentioned that it was a “reciprocal” agreement but it fell short of explaining what Pakistan was getting out of it.

He said the agreement appeared to be a retrogressive step for Pakistan as it agreed to take back criminals who have spent either most of their lives or entire lives in the UK and have committed crimes there.

 

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