Stateless and helpless.

There is a tiny slum by the name of Arakan Abad in Karachi's Korangi district. The faint smell of rotting fish that lingers around the low-income neighbourhood clues you in to what its denizens do for a living.

Every morning, the young lot of Arakan Abad goes out far away from shore into the deep waters of the Arabian Sea. Wrestling with the tides, they catch what sustains a profitable industry for both Karachi and the rest of the country.

One would think an economy they help nourish would provide them the means and the opportunity to meet their most basic needs. But their lean, sunburnt bodies and poverty-stricken lifestyle reflects the nation's apathy towards their labour. The fishermen of Arakan Abad have no credentials to prove that they are the citizens of Pakistan. And amid the lingering threat of the novel coronavirus, that means their most vulnerable have no recourse to get vaccinated.

'Yes, I want to be vaccinated but I don't have a National Identity Card (NIC),' says 65-year-old Shona Ali. 'Whenever I pay a visit to the hospital for vaccination, they refuse me. There are a large number of people [in our community] who have contracted Covid-19 but we are helpless and they cannot get vaccinated,' he lamented.

Ali has been living in Pakistan since he was a young child, but in the eyes of the state, he is still Bengali. Growing up, catching fish was the only means he had to earn a living but his advanced age makes going into deep waters an option no longer.

Ali, however, is not alone in being deprived of the most basic rights. There are many others in Pakistan of Bengali, Burmese and Afghan descent who, despite being born and brought up in Pakistan, have not yet been issued NICs by the state.

Unwarranted suspicion

Under the Pakistan Citizenship Act 1951, people born in Pakistan are automatically eligible for citizenship. However, prejudice against Bengalis and suspicion that they are illegal migrants means that they are often refused the identity documents.

The Pakistani Government has provided Covid-19 vaccination free of cost to its citizens who have their identity cards and are aged 40 years and above. But there are estimated to be around 2.5 million people in Pakistan of Bengali, Burmese and Afghan descent and a significant number of them continue to be denied the right to register as citizens. With the pandemic in full swing, this means these marginalised communities are especially vulnerable to Covid-19 as they live without any...

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