From Your Consulates?
By Haider Rizvi
At four o’clock in the morning, he opened his eyes
and saw that the train was still at the City Hall station, the
doors wide open. He looked around inside the subway car but
there was no one around. Suddenly, he realized his bag was gone
was no wallet in his pocket either. The bag was full of important
papers, including his passport and Green Card.
The next day, the 40-year-old freelance writer, who declined
to reveal his name, went to the police. After hours of hostile
interrogation, he finally got what he needed: a piece of paper
that said: “Passport
Next came the part that he had dreaded most. He was supposed
to submit the police report to his native country’s consulate
to obtain a new passport. But he was not sure if it would
be possible for him to do so.
Ten years ago, he fled his home country of Pakistan, where he had
been beaten up by Islamist militant groups and harassed by a number
of state secret agencies for having secular humanist views.
“I prefer to have no identity rather than go begging for what
I rejected a long-time ago,” he said about his original nationality.
What happened to this man may be unusual, but it is not unique. Many
immigrants who left their home countries for political reasons
prefer to have no contact with their consulates, even in times
should be seeking help from them.
“How could I ever ask the consulate for any help?” said
Zafar Ahmed, a human rights activist and doctoral student at the
University of New York, who recently suffered at the hands of police
for a minor traffic violation.
He fled his native Pakistan about
five years ago, after being accused of treason for launching
a campaign against the use of
child labor by the carpet industry.
There appears to be no formal
studies of how many immigrants who have moved into the United States
for political reasons without
seeking refugee status, but rights activists believe many came
from countries that went through internal political conflicts in
the recent past, such as Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, Haiti, Peru, Columbia,
Chile, Indonesia, Cuba, the Philippines, Palestine/Israel and
But political opposition is not the only factor that makes it
nearly impossible for immigrants to seek help from their embassies
and consulates. Immigrants who come from developing
accuse their consulate officials of corrupt practices and discriminatory
attitudes towards the poor or even average citizen.
“I tell you about the Indian consulate,” said Partha
Banerjee, an Indian-American immigrant rights activist. “If
know anybody there, you don’t get the service. But if you
are a rich businessman, you have no problem. It has been going
on for many years.”
A senior Asian journalist
who has spent more than 25 years in New York agrees with Partha. “A
large number of consulates from the Third World in New York don’t
really care much about the needs of their citizens because they
know most of them do
the kind of work that Americans do not want to do.”
complaints come from immigrants of Bangladesh, one of the heavily
populated countries in the South Asian region. “People
tell me that the attitude of the consulate officials is not good,” said
Qazi Shamsul Haq, editor of the New York-based Bengali-language
weekly newspaper Akhon Samoy. "They say officials are rude.”
Haq said during the "special
drive for adult males from Muslim countries earlier this year,
the Bangladeshi immigrants
said their consulate “did not do enough.” He, however,
added that the Bangladeshi consulate is still doing much better
than India and Pakistan in providing services to its citizens. “My
impression is it’s neither good nor bad.”
reports indicate there are more than 200,000 South Asian immigrants
living in New York City, most of whom work for
low-paid jobs for less wages and more hours.
Immigrant rights activists
say the quality of the relationship between the immigrants who
come from poor Latin American and African
nations is not so different from those from South Asia. In this
context, the only exceptions are the immigrants and visitors coming
from the Western European nations.
“It’s unthinkable that our consulate officials would
treat us badly. They know that it’s their job to help their
citizens as efficiently as possible,” said Thierry Kranzer,
a French national who works for the United Nations and has been
in New York for several years. “The consulate officials are
accountable to their people and their government.”
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