E.U. disputes Islamabad’s claim that Greek authorities were unable to prove the migrants were Pakistani.
Islamabad on Thursday sent back at least 30 undocumented migrants that Athens was trying to repatriate after saying Greece had failed to provide adequate proof that they were Pakistani, a claim later disputed by the E.U.
The migrants landed on a chartered flight at Benazir Bhutto International Airport in Islamabad around midday but officials refused to allow the majority of the passengers to disembark, saying their identities had not been confirmed and they therefore could not be repatriated under a 2010 agreement between the E.U. and Pakistan.
The E.U. later disputed Pakistan’s claim, stating that Islamabad had been provided with a complete list of names and passport numbers of the passengers but had later also sought their ID card numbers, which the E.U. could only provide in 19 of the cases. The plane was sent back to Athens around three hours later, according to airport authorities, with Pakistan placing the number of passengers sent back as 30 and the E.U. putting the figure at 31.
Islamabad had temporarily suspended its agreement with the E.U. to accept the repatriation of illegal Pakistani migrants citing its “blatant misuse,” saying member countries were not adequately checking the nationality of the deportees. The deal was restored last week following a meeting between Pakistani officials and E.U. migration chief Dimitris Avramopoulos.
Pakistani authorities complained that Thursday’s flight failed to adhere to the terms of the agreement. “Thirty unverified deportees arrived at Islamabad from Greece via a chartered plane. On the instructions of the interior minister, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) stopped these illegally sent people including the crew of the plane to disembark,” Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said in a statement.
He added: “Any deportee with the unverified documents will be sent back on the same flight to the country he would arrive [from]. A European country has violated the Pakistani laws even after all matters were settled down with the commissioner of the European Union, it will not be allowed.”
The E.U. denied violating the terms of the deal, saying in a statement that ID card numbers was not part of the agreement. “It was hoped that the Pakistani authorities verify the [ID card] numbers of the illegal migrants who received travel documents from the Pakistani Embassies. Obviously E.U. member states do not have access to this internal information—only Pakistan has,” a statement said.
Pakistan, the sixth most populous country in the world, is one of the top five countries of origin for illegal migration to Europe, according to figures from the European statistical institute Eurostat.