ISLAMABAD: After having no other option to survive amid pressure of Pakistani government to leave the country with expired visas as many as 98 staff of Pak-Turk International Schools, along with their families, has sought refugee status in the country through United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Reliable officials told The News that a total of 108 staff of the Pak-Turk schools applied for the refugee status as 10 people along with their families managed to leave the country earlier because of unexpired visas. As many as 98 people, along with their nearly 250 members of families, have been placed under the UNHCR protection with the issuance of temporary certificate of “asylum seeker”.
The UNHCR will further take up their applications to notify them as a certified refugees for a certain time period or may consider their requests to rehabilitate them in a third country.
Following pressure and visit of Turkey’s President Recept Tayyip Erdogan to Islamabad, last November, federal government ordered these teachersand staff to leave Pakistan within 72 hours. These teachers and staff served Pakistan, overall, for a period of 20 years. However, the staff moved Islamabad High Court against this sudden move and demanded time and extension in visas, a matter which the court further referred to the Ministry of Interior.
One of the affected Turkish staff told The News that the visas of the aforementioned Turkish staff expired in September 2016. They had not been renewed by Islamabad. With the expired visa, it is difficult for them to go through immigration desk, where they can be questioned, detained and even deported back to Turkey where they fear arrests and persecution. If they go to some other country like Thailand, according to those countries’ rules, they can get only a couple of months stay and then they have to go back to Turkey.
“We have stranded in Pakistan. We are helpless and we have no other choice,” a teacher who applied for the refugee status said, adding, “The saddest thing is that we served this country providing quality education for more than two decades. But this government is not even extending our visas allowing us to leave the country and go somewhere else to save our endangered lives.”
“We are teachers and following the pressure by Turkish government, we were deprived of our positions. We sold our valuables here in hurry to finance travel hoping to get visa and leave the country. Now, after failing in getting proper way to leave, we are helpless in the country. And everybody knows how difficult it is for a foreigner to survive in this situation where he has to fulfill basic needs of his family amid security concerns. We have to live on limited means,” another affected teacher said, asking not to be named. This is the country, which is called “a second home” of Turks, he sighed, urging Pakistani government to extend their visas for a proper time at least once giving them space to rescue themselves.
Feeling extremely depressed about future and their livelihood, these Turkish educationists are hoping to be evacuated to a country where they may get jobs. They say despite having no link with the coup attempt, according to media reports, more than 120,000 people from all age groups and health conditions have been jailed by the Erdogan government.
The foggy environment created by the Turkish government in Pakistan made these teachers uncomfortable, the teacher said. They are worried that something will happen to them at any moment as Pakistani government may give an order to leave the country within one day or face deportation to Turkey, where they can be victimised. They are hoping that the UNHCR will hear their case on urgent basis and sympathetic grounds in this complex situation rather a prolonged procedure.