Lahore, Jan 26: A delegation of young Pakistani Catholics was prevented by government officials from flying out of the country to join the Jan. 22-27 World Youth Day in Panama.
Young Pakistani Catholics who were about to fly out to join the Catholic Church’s World Youth Day (WYD) in Panama were blocked at Lahore airport by Pakistan’s Department for Immigration Office, the Fides news agency has reported.
It said the Pakistani Catholic delegation was blocked at Allama Iqbal International Airport and 14 young people with regular visas, were not allowed to travel. Only a Jesuit seminarian, Emmanuel, was allowed to embark.
The WYD is currently unfolding in the Panamanian capital, Jan. 22-27, which Pope Francis joined on Jan. 23.
Paul Mohan, coordinator of the Catholic Youth Commission of the Diocese of Hyderabad, narrated the delegation’s ordeal and bitter disappointment to Fides. He said on the morning of January 23, the group collected the boarding passes, went through the security checks at the airport but were blocked by the Immigration Office. They were kept waiting for more than an hour with the officials refusing to let them go.
Mohan said they tried talking to the members of Immigration Office and the officials of the airlines and changed the tickets for the following day, paying the penalty, hoping the problem was over. But the next day, Mohan said the Immigration Office stopped them again despite a regular visa and the letters from the bishops.
Speaking to Fides, Atif Sharif, Coordinator of the “Jesus Youth” movement in Karachi, regarded the action of the Immigration Office as discrimination. “If you meet the criteria, if you have the regular documentation requested by the Consulates of foreign countries and you get a visa,” he said, “a citizen must be free to leave.”
The plane ticket costs 300,000 Pakistani Rupees (about 1,800 Euros). Sharif said the huge investment in the trip abroad was all lost because of the government’s discrimination.
According to Fr. Bonnie Mendes, a priest of Faisalabad Diocese, “the right to movement, including the right to travel, is a fundamental right of every citizen, in some cases the government can enter the names of some citizens in the special exit checklist, applying a restriction to prevent expatriation.” “But if this is not the case, government departments cannot prevent people from travelling, if they have all the documents in place”, Fr. Mendes stressed. “At this point, a political and legal battle is needed to protect this right. It is a matter that the Justice and Peace Commission or the Human Rights Commission will have to face,” he added. (Source: Fides)