UK officials can seize Pakistani passports at Pak airports
British officials have been given powers to check and even confiscate Pakistani passports at Pakistani airports from passengers traveling to Britain, a move that has raised the hackles of many passengers.
On its part, the British High Commission says it does not confiscate the passports but only "retains" them if necessary after issuing a receipt.
"Such cases have become a routine matter and Pakistani citizens are ultimately suffering with holding up their passports for indefinite periods despite a valid visa," The News reported on Monday.
The permission to check passports was granted some months ago, an official of flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) said.
"The passports of Pakistanis are taken away at the airport with issuance of an ordinary receipt with email address of an Airlines Liaison Officer (ALO) and the passengers face great hardships in getting back their documents or proceeding to the UK," the paper said.
"Yes, the ALO is authorised by the BHC (British High commission) to confiscate or retain the travel documents of any passenger if they have any doubts/suspicions," PIA spokesman Muhammad Latif said in a written response to a question put by The News.
"The ALO regularly visits all international airports i.e. Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad as and when required by the High Commission of the UK and other embassies," Latif added.
"Passengers believe that they cannot be stopped in their own homeland when they hold a valid UK visa as it is tantamount to giving exclusive rights to a foreign country to screen Pakistani citizens leaving the country," the newspaper said.
In this context, it pointed to a communication between British ALO Simon Groves and Pakistani citizen Muhammad Farouk, who took umbrage over his passport being taken away at the Islamabad International Airport on April 23, 2008.
Farouk said that the passport had been confiscated whereas Groves maintained that it had only been "retained".
Groves responded on the same day to Farouk saying: "I can assure you that your passport was not confiscated or taken by force. I can also assure you that your passport was handed to me by a document checker working for PIA (operating before the check-in counter, and not wearing a PIA uniform)."
Farooq, in his letter also sent to the British High Commissioner in Islamabad, wrote: "Please do not twist the facts, you never asked my permission before confiscating the passport, rather you simply refused to hand me back the passport. Secondly, you intercepted me even before I approached the airline counter."
Farouk added: "I had to leave the airport in sheer embarrassment and disappointment as I had scheduled some very important meetings with my company clients there. It was a great humiliation and my rights as a free citizen were violated and dishonoured by none less than a person who identified himself as official of the British High Commission and confiscated my passport."