In what can only be termed yet another slap on the face of our international travel desires, the government of Sri Lanka has revoked the small luxury Pakistanis had of obtaining visas upon arrival in the country. Sri Lanka was one of the last few countries where the green passport did not require a visa prior to travel. Apparently, the reason behind this decision has been the sorry fact that, taking advantage of this lenient visa regime, Pakistani travellers would seek refuge in the country, refusing to return home. This new law seems to have been made as a deterrent to halt this practice. However, a few words must be said. Pakistan is a war-torn country where there are, unfortunately, many instances of injustice and threats to the lives of its minorities and liberal voices. Whilst one does not refute the claim of abuse of the lax visa policy, one cannot help but remind the Sri Lankan government that there will definitely be many cases of genuine asylum seekers who simply cannot return to their home country because they fear for their lives. The government there is also ready to deport those sitting in detention centres and camps. Even the UN High Commisioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has cautioned the Sri Lankan government against this move, recognising the status of these Pakistanis as refugees, but these pleas seem to be falling on deaf ears. It also seems as though the Indian authorities have played a part in speeding up this decision by claiming that these asylum seekers are plotting attacks against India on Sri Lankan soil. It is not fair to bracket every refugee like this and it is not responsible of the Sri Lankan government to deport everyone without adequate knowledge and proof.
Speaking of irresponsible, why did Foreign Office spokeswoman Tasneem Asghar issue such derogatory remarks against these refugees by waving off the matter, saying that such people “badmouth” Pakistan to gain asylum and that if “they are in trouble” she has “no idea”? Is there no one to take care of Pakistanis who may have genuine concern for their lives and mental health?
As far as international travel is concerned, holding a green passport is now a curse. Not only are Pakistanis harassed at foreign airports, we are isolating ourselves as a nation as well. The attack on Karachi airport led to Cathay Pacific cancelling all its flights to the country and the firing by militants at a PIA plane whilst it was landing at Peshawar’s Bacha Khan airport has led to Emirates and Etihad pulling back from Peshawar. The international carriers willing to come to Pakistan are few and far between and PIA is in such bad shape that no one wants to travel by it. Increasing cases of polio outbreak have led to strict travel restrictions imposed on us by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The situation is dismal and, it seems, nothing is being done to rectify our image and predicament. *