Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIA) cannot handle a large number of deportees, as illustrated by the failed escape attempt of 57 deportees on Thursday.
While the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) succeeded in arresting the 57 people deported from Greece with the help of the Airport Security Force (ASF) and area police, the incident indicates that faulty measures and disregard for standard operating procedures (SOP) could lead to a bigger fiasco in future.
Immigration officials and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) staff revealed that FIA is often given no prior information about the arrival of deportees, even from Greece and Turkey, where over 10,000 people await deportation to Pakistan.
Besides the ‘surprise’ arrivals of special flights and the arrival of a few deportees on normal passenger flights, other problems include the non-implementation of SOPs by different airlines, a shortage of FIA staff to manage the deportees, absence of a detention centre and interview cabins at BBIA, and resources to relocate deportees to FIA offices closer to their permanent residences in Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa.
An FIA official told The Express Tribune that there were agreements between Pakistan and various European Union (EU) member states to give prior information about the arrival of deportees. All countries relay this information except Greece and Turkey, he said.
The official feared that problems during the arrival of deportees would continue in future as thousands of Pakistanis await deportation from the UK, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Turkey.
The FIA official said that under the SOP signed by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), CAA, FIA and ASF, no more than 15 deportees may land at BBIA on a single flight. On the other hand, planes full of deportees continue landing at the airport, where immigration staff have been finding it hard to manage the load.
“Once they land at BBIA, deportees sit in the open because immigration staff must prioritise regular passengers,” the official added. They stay there for hours on end, without any security staff around them.
The official added that the FIA has 135 sanction posts for immigration staff, 110 of which are female operators. The 24-hour operations of BBIA mean that only a fraction of the staff are available at any given time and the staff is not trained to carry out security work such as guarding deportees.
Another problem that the FIA staff is facing at BBIA is the departure of deportees to FIA offices in Peshawar, Gujranwala, Sargodha and Faisalabad, closer to their hometowns. The deported persons have to wait for hours as FIA officials come from the destination city to collect them, the official said.
FIA Immigration Deputy Director Uroojul Hassan was unreachable for an official comment despite repeated attempts.
CAA Spokesperson Mubarak Shah, however, said the existing airport facility has no room for further extension. The detention centre, therefore, will have to wait for now. Shah quickly added that the new international airport near Fatejang will have all such facilities.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 13th, 2012.