ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Europe plans to accelerate the deportation of tens of thousands of illegal Pakistani migrants in a bid to free up space and resources for refugees with more legitimate asylum requests, a senior diplomat said Monday.
Dimitris Avramopoulos, the European commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship, delivered the message during a visit to Pakistan's capital in response to the refugee crisis. Although Syrians and Afghans make up the bulk of the most recent arrivals, Pakistanis also have been seeking asylum in Europe. The inflow is adding to the strain on Europe as it struggles to cope with the 760,000 migrants who have arrived there this year.
But with Pakistan's government relatively stable and the danger of Islamist militancy diminishing there, fewer than 20 percent of Pakistanis are granted asylum in Europe if they arrive illegally, officials said.
"Pakistanis will not qualify as political refugees," Avramopoulos said. "Pakistan is under a democratic process. ... It is not a country where its citizens are persecuted, and great progress has been done by authorities in Pakistan in order to pave a democratic perspective for their country."
Even before this year's refugee crisis, about 168,000 illegal Pakistani migrants had been ordered to leave countries in the 28-member European Union between 2008 and 2014, according to Eurostat. But a lack of enforcement, a shortage of flights, and bureaucratic delays have meant that only 55,750 of them actually left Europe during that time period.
Until Avramopoulos' visit, it had appeared as though the European Union would face even more hurdles in efforts to repatriate Pakistanis.
Last week, Pakistan's Interior Ministry said that Pakistani airlines would no longer cooperate with the repatriation of deportees.