New machine-readable passport could reduce human trafficking

Pakistani authorities have introduced new machine-readable passports (MRPs) incorporating special security features designed to check human trafficking and forgery.

"We have filled in all the basic requirements of International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). The new passports contain digitally printed personal data with a photograph, which cannot be tampered with like the previous manual ones," Junaid Mushtaq Qureshi, manager of the MRPs programme at the national immigration and passport department, told IRIN in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad.

Under the procedure of getting new passports, no application or photos are required from the applicants. The applicants have to only bring their computerised national identity cards (CNICs) with a photocopy and a bank receipt after depositing the prescribed passport fee and the procedure will be completed within half an hour.

All the data will be entered into the system on the spot and the photograph will be made digitally, without any extra expenses. Afterwards, an immigration official will conduct a brief interview to check that the applicant holds Pakistani nationality.

"Its not just trafficking, but so many other situations like forging of documents and smuggling cases, where it could provide effective control," Maryam Khokhar, programme officer at the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) told IRIN.

"The introduction of MRPs will lend greater authenticity to travel documents, as electronic processing of data will certainly eliminate potential human discretion at passport issuance offices," Qureshi added.

Giving further details of the new passports, Qureshi said they contained two machine-readable pages containing all the basic personal information. "There is a special 'bar code' as the biometric identifier of the MRP holder to ensure safety and check forgery," he added.

Pakistan’s National Assembly was told earlier this year that nearly 64,000 Pakistanis had been expelled from the Middle Eastern Gulf states over the last two years due to their illegal status. Some of the deportees, according to the Manpower and Labour department, were involved in forgery of passports and smuggling.

Qureshi said Pakistan was one of 80 countries in the world to have moved towards machine-readable travelling documents and the first in the South Asian region to do so.

"This will also benefit travellers as with the new document they would be processed through entry and exit points in comparatively less time," the immigration official added.

Apart from facilitating the passengers, it will provide a check on potential manipulation, according to the immigration official, "It'd also help in maintaining a proper record of passport holders ultimately helping us in curbing crimes by immediate verification."

"It’s always difficult to come up with exact statistics on issues such as human trafficking and smuggling. As by its very nature it is a hidden act. Sometimes the cases are identified but many times they are not," Khokhar added.

There is not any organised effort in the country dealing with the human trafficking issue as a whole. However, some social activists have cautiously welcomed the introduction of the new travelling document.

"To some extent, it'd be helpful in controlling the menace of human trafficking. But to check trafficking of women and children it needs a lot more effort combined with proper legislation as well," Rakhshanda Naz, head of a women's rights group, Aurat Foundation, told IRIN from north western city of Peshawar.

Pakistan has such a long and loose border that, according to Naz, "Unless they control the border effectively, they can't limit it. As all the trafficking and smuggling is not going on through airports but from open borders."


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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