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Thousands of Pakistani students in UK on edge

Most Pakistani youngsters in search of greener pastures
London, April 11: A wave of nervousness has swept across Pakistanis who are here on student visa, estimated to be in thousands, following the arrest on Wednesday of some of their countrymen suspected of being involved in plotting terror activities in Britain.

Last year alone, 9,300 students entered the UK from Pakistan.

Most Pakistani youngsters in search of greener pastures and who can afford use the UK's student visa facility to purchase permanent passage to Britain.

In all, each one spends about 20,000 pounds (Rs2 million approximately) with more than half going for admission and the first semester fee plus the visa fees and the rest for one way airfare and boarding and lodging for about three months - the period within which they hope to land a job, any job.

They drop out after the first semester but remain on student visa by using all kinds of deceptions and ruses perfected by their predecessors over the years with the help of unscrupulous solicitors.

The crass commercialisation of education in the UK and lax monitoring of dubious paper colleges and non-existent universities whose only concern is the money that they charge as fees make it easier for job-seeking student visa 'purchasers' from Pakistan to arrive in the UK with no intention of studying.

Only recently British colleges have been told to register with the UK Border Agency. Last month the agency turned down 460 of the 2,100 colleges which had applied for licences to admit international students, because they were bogus establishments sponsoring students as part of an immigration scam.

There are concerns inside government and the security services that the 11 Pakistani nationals being held in the north of England could have gained entry on student visas in order to form a sleeper cell. Gordon Brown talked of the police having foiled a "very big terrorist plot".

One Whitehall source said the police feared attacks were planned for the Easter weekend.

They said the plot indicated Al Qaeda was adopting new tactics to send clean skins - people not known to security services or the police - in from abroad, rather than using British-born terrorists to carry out attacks.

Asked if this would become another high-profile raid ending with no one charged with terror offences, the chief constable of Greater Manchester, Peter Fahy, said: "There will always be situations where either we can't achieve the evidential threshold or as a result of the investigation we find that the threat was not how it appeared to us at the time."

Fahy urged people in the region not to let speculation over potential targets affect their Easter plans. He said he and his family would have "no hesitation" in using shopping locations such as Manchester's Trafford Centre and Arndale Centre.

Muhammad Adil, a student swept up in the raids at John Moores University but released after a couple of hours, said one friend was still being held.

Adil, from Peshawar, said his friend was an accountancy student from Karachi. Adil had been studying in the UK for two years and met his friend at his part-time job as a security guard.

"They asked me if I knew why I was being arrested - as suspect of terrorism, I was laughing at that. I've been studying for the last two years," he said.

Students' Visa Regulations
A Home Office spokesman said that student visa regulations had been tightened so that all would-be students had to have their fingerprints checked against terror and police lists and had to be sponsored by a legitimate college or university in the UK.

Only last month, Immigration Minister Phil Woolas described how "abuse of the student visa has been the biggest abuse of the system, the major loophole in Britain's border controls".

Wajid Shamsul Hasan, Pakistan's high commissioner to the United Kingdom, said his country could help carry out visa checks, but was not allowed to. He said: "It is at your end you have to do something more. Every day we are arresting suspects wherever we find them."

Asked by BBC's Newsnight if there was a problem with the British system for student visas, he replied: "Yes. If they allow us to make inquiries first, if they ask us to scrutinise those people who are seeking visas we can help them."

(According to AFP, Mr Hasan told Sky News from Islamabad that Pakistan was doing whatever it could to combat terrorism. "We are accused of not doing enough. We are doing enough, despite our limited resources. We will continue to do whatever is possible, within our means, to fight them (terrorists).

"We are at the fag end of our resources... What else can we do? We have been telling our Western friends to provide us assistance, equipment and training... so that we can put our act together and carry on with the war.")

Meanwhile, two Whitehall sources indicated the surveillance operation began a fortnight ago when a foreign intelligence agency passed information to British security services. Three days ago, the sources said, further intelligence indicated that any attack the cell was planning was "imminent", and the decision was made to arrest the alleged network. However, that sequence of events was disputed by other sources.

Search Widened
British anti-terror police were scouring homes and interrogating 11 Pakistanis on Friday.

By midday, police said they had searched 10 sites around the cities of Liverpool and Manchester. While police continued to gather evidence, they declined to describe specifics about the alleged terrorist plot, said the Associated Press. Dawn

50,000 granted UK student visas in five years
Lahore: Around 50,000 Pakistanis have travelled to Britain on student visas during the last five years, according to The Sun newspaper. Since 2006, 98 percent applications for "extension of leave to remain in Britain" have been granted.

Rules introduced last month require that colleges get government approval before students arrive here and ministers insist there has been a crackdown on visa abuse.

But critics claim there has been an "open gateway" over recent years. Sir Andrew Green of the Migration Watch told the paper, "Not enough checks are being made on those from countries of concern like Pakistan."

"Everyone coming here should be given a thorough interview. That is not done at the moment. There is also a problem with bogus institutions sponsoring students. Security needs tightening up. We have been calling for this for years."

Shadow home secretary Chris Grayling also called on the government to "urgently step up" background checks on students from countries linked to terror. A Home Office spokesman said all students applying to come to Britain were fingerprinted and then checked against "a range of immigration, terrorism and crime-watch lists".

Meanwhile, Pakistan's high commissioner to the UK said not enough security checks were being done.

Wajid Shamsul Hasan said Pakistani authorities could help carry out background checks on student visa applicants but were not allowed to. He said, "It is at your end, you have to do something more."

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Foreign schools close down due to terror threats
Rawalpindi/Islamabad: Panic ran through teachers, students and parents on Friday when international schools closed down, acting upon advice of security agencies who received threats of attacks from terrorists and told schools to adopt precautionary measures.

Till Thursday, no announcement of a holiday was made but the situation turned dramatic when students came to schools on Friday morning and principals rang their parents to tell them take their children back.

Major schools will reopen on Monday when examinations are starting. Police and other law enforcers were stationed in patrolling vans outside the schools to counter any terror bid.

Shocking: "I dropped my son at school. Half an hour passed and I got a call that school will remain closed for security reasons so I may pick my son," said Abdul Rehman.

"The news was shocking. It will have a negative impact on my son. He is in a state of fear, asking frequently who are terrorists and who wants to destroy his school?" he said.

"I saw a sticker pasted at school gate reading 'school is close today' when I came to drop my children at school," said Ali Athar.

Azhar Bukari said the school administration did not tell him the reason for school closure. "They said they will let me know on Monday, when school is reopening," he said.

Confusion and chaos: In both cities, strict security arrangements were made at schools. Even parents were not allowed to enter the buildings. They, however, lambasted administrations of the schools for this mess, standing at the gates, where they were stopped. Private security guards were deployed in, around and on rooftops of schools in large number.

Reporters were also stopped at the gates of the schools. They were told administration was not present to comment.

Managers are to blame: "The unusual security in and around educational institutions can harm learning process of children. The sight of heavily armed security guards everywhere around the place of learning is not good to look at," said a schoolteacher.

She said there could be many ways to protect schools without instilling fear in students. "Administrations of schools are to be blamed for creating panic and confusion among students by dealing with the matter so haphazardly," she said.

"It is hard to imagine that now terrorists will target schools. Whatever, it is mismanagement on part of well reputed schools that caused uncertainty among students and parents," said Mrs Younas, mother of a student.

No direct threat: Saman Imtiaz, official of a private school in Islamabad, said the administration of her school decided to close down so that the police could comb the green belts around schools and clear the area. She said her school had not received threat from terrorists directly.

Ayaz Akbar, a security official at a school, said the school administration did not receive any direct threat from terrorists.

"Regional office of the school system was informed of terror threat by security agencies with an advice to enhance security. The advice was then passed on to all branches of the school system, which decided to close down for a day," he said.

He said school administration worked hard to avoid panic. He said schools would open on Monday. "CCTVs have been installed at entry and exit points of schools. More than four armed guards, holding metal detectors, will man main gates of schools," said Akbar.

Another official said school administration tried hard to inform parents to taken their children back home on time.

She said security guards had been directed to conduct body search of visitors with metal detectors.

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Madrassas get registration forms
Islamabad: The government has started distributing registration forms to madrassas across the country, sources said on Friday. Sources in the Interior Ministry said that the registration forms included particulars of students, their source of income, their citizenship and other information. A religious seminary, Al-Markaz Islami, in F-10 Markaz, confirmed receiving the registration forms.

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Workshop on online degree verification held
Islamabad: Higher Education Commission (HEC) on Friday organised a workshop on 'Online Verification of Degrees/Transcripts' for university administrators and controllers.

It is the fourth of a series of workshops to ease students' woes regarding verification of their degrees, while going abroad for study or employment.

Dr Ayub Alvi, the dean of FAST National University of Computer & Emerging Sciences, Islamabad, conducted the workshop, attended by 30 participants from public and private sector universities. Muhammad Javed Khan, HEC Accreditation and Attestation director general, explained the importance of online verification of degrees and transcripts. Daily Times

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Court reinstates AIOU director
Islamabad: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) reinstated a BPS-19 officer of the Allama Iqbal Open University's (AIOU's) Planning and Development department here on Friday, 12 years after he was dismissed from service.

Mohammad Siddiqui was sacked by the university administration in 1997 when he was on two-year probation period.

The director filed an appeal before the Federal Service Tribunal (FST) that was rejected. His appeal before the Supreme Court was also set aside.

But after President Asif Ali Zardari on February 14 announced through an ordinance the reinstatement of all government employees fired in 1990s, Mr Siddiqui furnished a joining report with the AIOU on February 25.

The AIOU administration informed Mr Siddiqui that his application would be considered in the next executive meeting. He then filed a petition before the IHC, seeking his reinstatement. The court gave a verdict in his favour.

Meanwhile, IHC Chief Justice Mohammad Bilal Khan rejected the bail plea of a murder convict, ignoring his argument that his co-accused had been granted bail in the same case. Dawn

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FJWU holds faculty colloquium
Rawalpindi: Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU) on Friday organised a faculty colloquium.

The panelists included Islamic Studies Department In-charge Ms Ayesha Rafique, Defence and Diplomatic Department In-charge Ms Rabia Akhtar and Gender Studies Department lecturer Shahla Tabassum.

Ms Rafique briefed the audience about her participation in "International Conference on Ijtihad and Ifta in the 21st Century: Challenges and Prospects" organised by International Islamic University, Malaysia. She said the conference focused on challenges and solutions of Ijtihad and Ifta on women and social issues.

Ms Akhtar shared her experiences regarding her participation in training on security sector reform (SSR) held in Manila. She said SSR was a process to make security institutions accountable to the state and its people. She said SSR acted as a conflict prevention tool as it provided enhanced security and structural stability to overcome fragility and violent conflicts. Ms Tabassum briefed the audience about the "International Conference on Women in Public Sector" organised by Centre for Women Studies, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Ms Tabassum said she presented a paper on "Representation of Women in Pakistani Print Media: A Content Analysis". Daily Times

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