RAFIQ is a worried man these days. After 16 years in Karachi, where he works as a domestic servant, he is now struggling to put together some money to take his wife Aqlima and two-year-old son Arif back to Bangladesh, his homeland. The reason: the Bhutto government's recent decree that around two million immigrants must prove that they are legal residents or face deportation within six months. "All foreigners in Pakistan shall have to obtain a work permit or face expulsion within six months," says Interior Minister Naseerullah Babar, adding that more than 800 Bengalis have already been deported this year. Like thousands of other Bengalis, Rafiq is also being brutally hounded. "I cannot go out," says Rafiq. "If I get caught, what will happen to my wife and child. Who will feed them?"
Dhaka, which has vehemently denied Islamabad's allegations that many Bengalis are living illegally in Pakistan, has taken a tough stand against the 300-odd people allegedly holding Bangladeshi passports who arrived from Karachi early this month. While admitting that "according to our information, they have not been deported," Bangladesh's acting foreign secretary Mohiuddin Ahmed said they will face normal immigration laws and would not be accepted unless their claims are proved genuine.
The refugees, who were arrested on arrival but later released on bail, also maintained that they had come on their own fearing the fallout of Benazir's decree. Most do not have valid documents and those who do, have mostly fake passports. "If the Pakistani authorities forcibly send people here, we'll definitely take up the matter with Islamabad," said Ahmed.
But in Pakistan, the crackdown continues. The police are hauling up Bengalis if they are seen outside their houses. Some of them, like Rafiq, are planning to go back to Bangladesh....