Jamia Binoria Blacklisted foreign students & Pakistan government

Blacklisted Binoria students grapple with uncertain future
Karachi, July 28, 2008: As a tussle between the government of Pakistan and Jamia Binoria continues over the deportation of six international students, the foreign children at the religious institution foresee a bleak future for themselves.

The government of Pakistan had ordered Jamia Binoria, one of the largest Islamic seminaries in Pakistan, to deport its six "blacklisted" international students over violating the country's visa policy, while the Jamia has emphatically rejected the government's demand, vowing not to let anyone touch the students.

After being blacklisted for the violation of visa laws by the government of Pakistan recently, these students fear that they will be in great trouble if their alma mater fails to reach a consensus with the government on the issue.

"I will have to leave the Madrassah forever, then," says Suppakit Chemreh aka Al-Nasri from Thailand. The 20-year-old boy is one of those young students at the seminary who are to be deported by the government of Pakistan. The rest of them are girls, three from Thailand, one from Fiji and one from the United States (US).

While talking about his situation, Al-Nasri says that he came to Pakistan last year after completing his studies up to grade 12. "I wanted to improve upon the ills in my society," he says. Therefore, he joined Jamia Binoria which is, according to him, "one of the best institutes in the world for Islamic studies."

Established in 1978, the Jamia hosts 5,000 male and female students of Deen (religion) in Karachi, where almost 500 of them are foreigners. Al-Nasri, who is one of them, has thus far crossed one level his six-year long education, but now finds himself blacklisted by the government. He will now have to leave his alma mater and Pakistan for good if he remains "blacklisted." According to Pakistani law, he won't even be allowed to leave Thailand for the next five years if he departs with this tag. Worse, he will have to explain to his friends here and agencies back home why he was blacklisted.

"They (Pakistan government) must have believed he is a troublemaker," thinks Mobeen, another Thai fellow at the seminary, adding that these students might have violated the state's law which resulted in the deportation and blacklisting orders.

This perception is worrisome for Al-Nasri who believes his reputation is at stake now. "I don't know why I am blacklisted," he says, "but I find it weird that in the same institute some students are blacklisted while the rest are not."

Though Al-Nasri knows that talks are underway between the Jamia officials and the government for the visa extension of the blacklisted children, he has no plans to stay. "I will leave from here as soon as my examinations are over," he says. Examinations for the religious seminaries are being held in Pakistan these days and, despite the fear of the investigation he might be facing back home, Al-Nasri is determined to leave Pakistan once they are over. He is convinced that, no matter what, he will be in greater trouble while living in Pakistan than.

"The deportation orders have alarmed other international students as well at the Jamia," reveals one of the officials at the Jamia Binoria on the condition of anonymity. The source reveals that, since the deportation orders, students throng the office of the head of the Jamia Binoria, Maulana Mufti Muhammad Naeem, everyday asking him about their visa status in Pakistan. "A lot of them are so scared that they have planned to return to their home countries for good," an official reveals, adding that, besides frequent visits by media persons and agencies demanding complete information about these kids, international reaction to the documentary "Karachi Kids" has added to the concerns of international students at the seminary.

The documentary, released this year, claimed that the Jamia was pushing students towards 'Talbanization.' The documentary resulted in two American (blacklisted) students at the Jamia returning home. This has been followed by a demand by an American NGO, South Asian Foundation for Education Reform (Safer), which is working with US Congressman Michael McCaul, for the immediate return of Muna Abanur, the only blacklisted American national studying at the Madrassah now.

"She was very perturbed by the deportation orders," says Mualna Mufti Naeem admitting that "Karachi Kids" coupled with the blacklist issue has scared many students and their parents, especially the girls. Given this, the head of the Jamia doesn't allow us to interview any of the blacklisted girls, fearing that, "it will add in their worry."

Talking to us, Mufti Naeem expresses ignorance over reasons behind blacklisting students. "We had applied for the extension in their visas," he claims, "but they were termed 'blacklisted' instead." He adds that, despite asking, the ministry of interior didn't give the reason behind the move. He is, however, sure that this issue will be resolved soon. And even if it isn't, "We won't allow anybody to take these children from us unless they themselves want to leave," he says staunchly. "And we won't even resort to violence against the state if they come to take them," he is quick to clarify adding that they will keep negotiating with the government instead.

'It's the Jamia's fault' Karachi.

Unlike Mufti Naeem, Mr Nazir Ahmad, Section Officer at the Ministry of Interior, knows why the students are blacklisted. He says that, since 2005, there has been a ban on student visas for international students wanting to study at Madrassahs.

"Also," he says, "according to the Pakistan Visa Manual 2006, a foreigner may be blacklisted for future entry in Pakistan if he stays for more than a year in Pakistan without a visa and can be allowed exit only subject to the over stay charges or visa fee," he adds. Nazir claims that these students had come on a visit visa and were already identified as staying in Pakistan illegally for more than a year when the Jamia applied for their visa extension. "In ordinary cases," Nazir tells, "such students are immediately deported by the security agencies and are never allowed re-entry in Pakistan," Nazir continues.

However, so far no action has been taken against these students as this case is still, "under special review of the Interior Ministry upon the special request by the Madrassah," he says.

Nazir admits that this issue might be perturbing for these students, now as well as in the future, but holds the Jamia responsible for that. "They shouldn't have let students stay here illegally," he says adding that this is a common practice and that there must be dozens of such international students present in the seminaries that are liable to be "blacklisted."

A former student of a Madrassa in Karachi admits it. On condition of anonymity, he says that, despite a ban, hundreds of students from around the world travel to Pakistan in quest of religious knowledge. Earlier, funded by the US government during the war against Soviet Union in the 1980s, Madrassahs in Pakistan were regarded as the best institutes for religious knowledge. However, with the US-launched war against terror and seminaries in Pakistan allegedly having links with the Taliban, foreign students have been banned admissions here.

"Therefore," he says, "when they don't find a legal way to get in, they resort to the illegal ways." These 'illegal ways' can entail, among other things, first arriving on a visit visa and then a Madrassah using its influence and contacts to get an extension. This can also allegedly include, "bribing the concerned officials," adds a travel agent. Sometimes, a seminary doesn't even bother to resort to these tricks and lets the student study even after the expiry of the visit visa. The student then pays an over stay fee and is deported to their home country after completion of the degree.

The Jamia Binoria doesn't confirm this and claims that, "the Federal Secretary Interior Kamal Shah promised to grant extension soon." However, Kamal Shah could not be reached for comments owing to his busy schedule.

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