Citizenship for Refugees by Dr Ramesh Kumar Vankwani

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During his recent visit to Karachi, Prime Minister Imran Khan was informed about street crimes in the city and the involvement of illegal immigrants in these offences.

The prime minister was of the view that Pakistan must either grant citizenship to children born in Pakistan or explore alternative solutions on humanitarian grounds.Our Citizenship Act 1951 is quite clear in this regard. It states that “anyone born in Pakistan after this act is a Pakistani citizen”. However, children of foreign diplomats and “enemy aliens” born in Pakistan are not considered citizens of Pakistan.

As far as the current refugee issue is concerned, we must find a long-lasting permanent solution. I am also aware of the reservations being shown by various Sindhi, Balochi and Pakhtun nationalist leaders. A few days ago, I had an opportunity to exchange views with Sardar Akhtar Mengal on the issue of immigrants. Balochistan’s leadership is committed to solve the issue of refugees and, therefore, included the matter in the agreement they signed with the PTI government. During a press conference, Asfandyar Wali also vowed to support the government in finding a solution to the refugee crisis.

The ‘immigrant issue’ in Pakistan is quite complicated because the refugees present in our country aren’t limited to one single country but belong to different regions. Before analysing the status of refugees, it is necessary to review the citizenship laws implemented in various prominent countries.

There are generally two types of citizenship laws. The Latin word ‘jus soli’ – which means ‘right of the soil’ – is used for the first set of citizenship laws. The US is the most prominent example of a country with such laws. Citizenship is, therefore, the right of anyone born in the US territory, as per the 14th Amendment adopted on July 1868. Owing to this, the US became a haven for illegal immigrants arriving from all over the world. Although most refugees who stayed in the country remained aliens, their children succeeded in becoming American citizens.

According to the current Canadian Citizenship law, every child born in the territory of Canada, including its skies and seas, are Canadian by birth. Even if a child is born in an airplane or maritime ship registered in Canada, he/she is eligible to apply for Canadian citizenship. However, Canadian citizenship by birth is not granted to a child if neither parent is a Canadian citizen or permanent resident.

There is another type of citizenship laws that is known as “jus sanguinis” (right of blood) in Latin. As per these laws, children must be given citizenship in accordance with the nationality of their parents. This law is applicable in various countries across the globe, including Austria, Germany, Norway, Japan, Mexico, Thailand, South Korea, and Poland. Afghanistan, Armenia, Greece, Finland, Spain, and Turkey also used to issue citizenship on an ethnic basis to people residing in different countries.

In the past, India also granted citizenship to every child born on Indian soil. However, after a constitutional amendment in 2004, it is now mandatory for one of the parents to be an Indian national. In addition, India also offered overseas citizenship to permit foreigners of Indian origin to live and work freely in the country. Though they enjoy all civic facilities, the holders of overseas citizenship have no right to vote and hold public office.

Any child, irrespective of whether he/she born in Iran or abroad, is Iranian by birth if his/her father holds an Iranian nationality. Like Pakistan, Israel is also considered an ideological state, which was founded in the name of religion. Once a Jewish person, regardless of which part of world he/she belongs to, enters Israel, he/she is eligible to apply for Israeli citizenship. However, there is another permanent residency status for non-Jewish residents of Israel, mostly for citizens of East Jerusalem and Golan Heights.

When it comes to refugees residing in Pakistan, we have to endorse Imran Khan’s stance that Pakistan must follow international laws that prohibit attempts to forcibly send immigrants back. There is a need to convene an all-parties conference to tackle the refugee issue in a responsible manner so that the viewpoints and reservations of all parties in this regard can be heard.

Instead of levelling criticism, we should discuss this matter in parliament and devise suitable constitutional amendments, if required. This will help us reach a logical conclusion and consensus on the debate.

In the initial stages, the government must consider issuing iqamas (residency permits) to refugees after accurate data is compiled. In this way, they will be allowed to play a positive role for the betterment of Pakistan. Once their iqama expires, refugees may return to their homelands through the active cooperation of the UN. However, there should be zero-tolerance for all those elements involved in crime and terrorism.

The writer is a member of the NationalAssembly and patron-in-chief of the

Pakistan Hindu Council.

Twitter: @RVankwani

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