PARIS: The Pakistani community in France has unlimited complaints about the Pakistani embassy in Paris and terms it as an "alien" place for them. They also say that the staff's attitude is non cooperative and "cut-off" from its own people.
Jalal, a member of the Pakistani community in Paris, while talking to The Express Tribune, shared his experience of the embassy of Pakistan and said, "I applied for my National Identity Card (NIC) in December last year but have not yet gotten it and did not get any response from the embassy as well."
"What I believe is that our embassy does not have connection with the Pakistani community and is generally cut-off from it." He exclaimed. "Pakistani community does not have enough access to the embassy. They (embassy of Pakistan) need to integrate more with the Pakistani community."
Narrating an incident, when President Asif Ali Zardari was in Paris, attending an exhibition of Gandhara Art, he said, “The day President Asif Ali Zaradari was here, a French friend of mine called me and told me that she could not get access to her library because 'somebody' was there and they had closed the area for the public which really created a negative image on the locals about Pakistan, because if dignitaries from other countries come here, they don’t block the roads."
He also criticized PIA and said, “If you go to the PIA office you will find two Chinese attending Pakistani clients which is a little strange. The PIA office doesn’t help people the way they should, as compared to other airlines."
On the other hand, Junaid Khan, a higher education student in Paris, was also not content with the embassy. While narrating his story to The Express Tribune, he said, “My passport was robbed after three weeks of my arrival to France in October, 2009. Upon requesting for a new passport from the embassy of Pakistan in Paris, they issued me a new passport with six months validity and was told that the five-year validity passport needs verification from Pakistan and requires a maximum of two months for issuance. So I kept inquiring the embassy for the verification, but even after four months, neither could I get any positive answer nor a reason for the delay."
"Disappointed, I went to the Pakistan embassy in Rome to get a new computerized passport which was issued in 10 days." he added. "This was not only a period of tension but also spending so much money is hardly affordable for a student.”
He also complained about the attitude of the staff at the embassy and said that their customer service is "harsh and unprofessional" and doesn not give sufficient and accurate information to the clients.
Another problem faced by the Pakistani community in Paris is the unavailability of a bank in or near the embassy. The only branch of National Bank of Pakistan is located at a walking distance to the embassy.
So if a person, visiting the embassy, has to go to the bank, he misses out the time he could utilise at the embassy. This makes it impossible to go to the embassy and bank at the same time.
Shaukat Hussain, a senior citizen of the Pakistani community, who has been living in Paris for the last 30 years, while sharing his experience with The Express Tribune said, "Even the clerical staff at the embassy of Pakistan behaves negatively. When they come to the office, their first priority is to check the dollar rates and they get really excited if the rates are higher."
"Their personal offices are spacious and grand but the customer service room is very congested with substandard facilities", he complained. "The embassy provides a limited number of token to the people which can be gotten only if you come early in the morning. People coming down to Paris from suburbs cannot often get it and they have to stay in hotels if they fail to get it."
"Those who get the tokens early in the morning, have to wait in a long queue outside the embassy", he added. "It gives a very bad impression to the passersby as in other embassies, they have proper arrangement for their citizens."
When The Express Tribune approached the Charge d’Affari Rafiuzzaman Siddiqui of the embassy of Pakistan in Paris, he said, “If the people have genuine complaints, they have every right to speak openly and we will address to their complaints, but it is also a fact that sometimes people make issues out of nothing."
"The very longstanding issue people faced here was the unavailability of machine readable passports, which has been solved now" he said.
When asked about the token and queue issue, Siddiqui negated the complaints and said, “I have never seen any queue outside the embassy."
"With the limited resources we have, we try to provide the best possible services to the Pakistanis. Initially we issued 25 tokens but now we have extended them to 40 and there is a proper sitting arrangement inside the embassy", he said.
When asked about the delay in getting the NIC, he said that they process things on time in Paris, but they get delayed in Pakistan.
He further said that unlike India, Pakistani embassy does not have a cultural centre. "We don't have funds for cultural promotion and whatever we do in this regard, is done of our own accord. We generate money from our own recources", he exclaimed.
"We regularly arrange different activities to promote our culture here", he added. "We organised exhibition of Gandhara art at a museum here consecutively for six months, but our community did not show much interest in it."
"In the past, we have even helped and assisted our community on holidays", he said. "Whenever we come to know that a Pakistani has an issue, our officers come to the office even on holidays to sort out their problems and address to their complaints."