Pakistan, Saudi Arabia discuss Rohingya issue

Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are holding talks to resolve a years-long deadlock involving the renewal of the Pakistani passports of some 250,000 Rohingya Muslims living in the kingdom in order to maintain their legal status, officials said, Anadolu Agency reports.

Discussions are being held on Riyadh’s request, following the Saudi Deputy Interior Minister Nasir Bin Abdul Aziz Al-Dawood’s two-day visit to Islamabad last month.

Speaking to Anadolu, Qadir Yar Tiwana, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, confirmed that the two sides are discussing the renewal of passports and a joint committee has been formed to look into the matter.

An official at the Pakistan’s Embassy in Riyadh, wishing not to be named, told Anadolu that a meeting with the Saudi officials is going to be held “soon to take a definitive decision.”

“No final decision has so far been taken, however, it’s likely to be resolved soon,” he said.

The official said: “When these Rohingya moved to Saudi Arabia in the 1960s, there was an understanding that Riyadh would eventually grant them citizenship. That’s why, Pakistan which kept on renewing their passports, stopped the process in 2012.”

Secondly, he said, many Rohingya got married to Saudi women, and according to local laws, their kids cannot be considered Saudi citizens. These children are simply stateless since they don’t have either Saudi or Pakistani passports.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mumtaz Zehra Baloch did not respond to messages and calls from Anadolu.

Rohingya started moving to Saudi Arabia via Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi on Pakistani passports in the 1960s, according to Noor Hussain Arakani, a Rohingya community leader.

Arakani’s in-laws and a brother also reside in Saudi Arabia.

Karachi is home to more than 400,000 Rohingya Muslims, the highest number after Myanmar and Bangladesh, according to unofficial estimates.

They had started to trickle into the region in the early 1940s – before the creation of Pakistan.

The first exodus took place in 1942 following the first army operation in Rakhine that killed over 100,000 Rohingya Muslims.

A majority of Rohingya refugees, however, made Pakistan their home from 1960 to 1980 after a long and grueling journey via Bangladesh to India and then Pakistan.

Since then, there have been no mass migrations as India closed its borders with Bangladesh and put restrictions on travel on borders with Pakistan.

Former Pakistani President Ayub Khan, who ruled the country from 1958 to 1969, had allocated land to Rohingya refugees in 1962, paving the way for two settlements – Burma Colony and Arkanabad, named after the former Rakhine state – in Karachi’s eastern neighborhoods.

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