Pakistan refused to allow about 30 migrants deported from Greece to get off a plane at Islamabad on Thursday, a week after talks with the European Union to settle a dispute over forced repatriations.
The charter plane later took off with the rejected returnees still aboard, after 19 others whom Pakistan deemed legitimate deportees were allowed to disembark, the Interior Ministry said.
A top EU official said last week that Pakistan would stick to an agreement to take back citizens deported from mainland Europe days after Pakistani Interior Minister Nisar Ali Khan said Islamabad was suspending a repatriation deal.
Last year, about 21,000 Pakistanis who were in Europe without permission were ordered to return home. An estimated 50,000 Pakistanis travel legally to Europe for work each year.
But the Interior Ministry said 30 of those who arrived on Thursday were “unverified deportees”.
“Despite having settled all issues with the European Commissioner, Pakistani laws have been violated, which absolutely cannot be allowed,” Khan said in a statement.
The EU’s representative office in Pakistan said all those on board the aircraft had been given travel documents by Pakistani embassies, but that some appeared to have been refused entry because they lacked an Interior Ministry-issued identification card.
In a statement, it said European officials were unable to verify this document: “Obviously EU member states do not have access to this internal information – only Pakistan has.”
Greek Migration Minister Yannis Mouzalas told reporters the EU must do more to persuade Pakistan to accept returnees.
Greece has been under pressure from EU partners to directly deport migrants arriving from Turkey instead of allowing them to go elsewhere in Europe.
He told parliament Greece had a few weeks ago tried to send 62 illegal migrants back to Pakistan, but that these had been rejected.
Clashes erupted on the Greek-Macedonian border on Tuesday when Macedonian police fired tear gas to repel hundreds of mostly Pakistani migrants trying to push through a new border fence.
Some of them later blocked the crossing for Syrians and others who would have been let in as war refugees. “If we don’t cross, no one does!” they chanted.
This year, almost 900,000 people seeking asylum have reached European shores, about four times the total in 2014, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said this week. Half of them were fleeing the fighting in Syria.