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'Send her back home' Pakistani community react to alleged abuse by High Commissioner in Australia

The Pakistani High Commissioner appears to be keeping a low profile as the Pakistani community both in Australia and Pakistan express shock and anger following allegations of slavery-like conditions in her residence in Canberra, revealed by the ABC earlier this week.

A former employee of the Pakistan High Commissioner in Canberra told the ABC's Four Corners this week that he slept in a basement, was verbally abused and worked up to 19 hours a day.

The case has highlighted the issues arising from the immunity of foreign diplomats to the powers of Australian authorities who were unable to intervene in cases of alleged worker abuse and exploitation on diplomatic premises. 

Naela Chohan, the High Commissioner for Pakistan in Canberra is among several diplomats currently under the spotlight of the Australian national media this week with the Salvation Army advising ABC's Four Corners that it has dealt with more than 20 cases of workers being exploited in diplomatic households, mostly in Canberra. 

Some members of the Pakistani community living in Australia have told SBS Urdu that they should “send her back home” with others questioning the culture of diplomats in Canberra that would allow widespread worker exploitation and abuse to occur. 

Other members of the community have told SBS Urdu that Australians should avoid passing judgement in haste against Pakistani people as a result of the report. 

Pakistani High commission building Canberra
Facebook Pakistani High commission building Canberra

Shahid Mahmood told the ABC that he slept in a storage space in the basement of the home of Pakistani High Commissioner Naela Chohan for more than 18 months before he was able to seek assistance with the help of Canberra Legal Aid.

Mr Mahmood was granted permanent residency by the Australian government in September last year.

The ABC reported that Department of Immigration stated in correspondence to Mr Mahmood that "the Attorney-General has issued a certificate confirming that you have made a contribution to, and cooperated closely with, an investigation."

Following the airing of the report, the community conversation continued on social media with community leaders and members reacting angrily to the High Commissioner and demanding a transparent inquiry from Pakistani foreign office.

How was the High Commissioner responded? 

Pakistani High Commissioner Ms Naela Chohan declined to appear but gave a statement to the ABC saying "I can assure you that all and each of the allegations are baseless, unfounded and motivated."

High Commissioner Ms Naila Chohan's term in Australia is nearly over and she was due to attend farewell functions this weekend in Sydney.

Now the event's organisers tell SBS Urdu that they have received information from Pakistani High Commission that due to the illness of a close relative of Ms Naila Chohan, she is travelling overseas and won’t be able to attend the function.

Ms Chohan was also committed personally to appear in SBS Radio Urdu's live program this Sunday 18th February,  sending confirmation of the appearance last week.

Now though there has been no fresh confirmation received despite several attempts at making contact.

The Pakistani High Commission in Canberra also did not respond SBS calls to air the High Commissioner's response to the allegations  that were aired. 

Some community sources have told SBS Urdu that she has already left Australia and others claimed that she has been called by the Foreign Office at home but the news was not confirmed by any embassy official.


Naela Chohan-Pakistan High Commissioner
facebook Pakistan High Commission

Pakistani Community Reactions

Members of Australia's Pakistani community have shared with SBS Urdu their messages of frustration, anger and disbelief.

Spokesperson of the community group "Pakistanis in Australia"  wrote to SBS from Perth, "the community is outraged since the program went on air."

"We had to turn off comments on social media because of the abusive language used by some members.

"The responsibility lies on the foreign service and overseas employment agency of Pakistan who need to be accountable for the plight of the said victim." 

"We request to the general public to not apply the individual act to the whole ... nation."

President of the Pakistan Association of Australia, Mr Abbas Rana told SBS Urdu that, "the association is duly concerned about the news regarding charges aired against Pakistan’s top diplomat based in Canberra."

"We request to all media and general public at large, to be not judgmental, and to not apply individual act to the whole organisation; office or the nation.

"While the government of Australia has taken the necessary action in the wake of any complaints, it has honourably maintained the diplomatic protocols; which we believe that the public at large should also observe in such a legal and responsible way.

"We are sure that the government of Pakistan is already looking into the matter quite closely and the supremacy of the law will be maintained without any prejudice."

Prominent author and journalist Ashraf Shad took Facebook to share his feelings, writing a post under the heading, “Farewell to Pakistan's High Commissioner." 

He wrote that "It was mind blowing to see how she forged the documents to bring her male servant to Australia and then how she treated him.

"She may hide behind diplomatic immunity and escape punishment under the Australian laws, but she will not be treated with respect in Australian society where she plans to live now.

"Some people are honouring her with a farewell dinner, they should also award her for defaming Pakistan's name.

"And by the way, she is not going anywhere, she is settling back here under the guise of a PhD student.

"Australia is a beautiful country, no one wants to go back, neither she nor her male servant."

Community comments underneath Shad's post also concurred with his sentiment:  

Community reaction
Community group/members Facebook

"The Ambassador has disgraced the country....She represents a medieval and unjust feudal mindset that needs reform."

Another Pakistani community member, Natasha D’Souza of Beehive Films of Western Australia wrote "[Naela Chohan] was an Ambassador of Pakistan but has disgraced the country.

"She represents a medieval and unjust feudal mindset that needs reform."

Other Pakistani community organisations reacted with less aggression but clearly frustrated by the tarnishing report.

Dr Khurram Kayani, the President of the Pakistani Professionals and Business Syndicate Australia said, "It is a very sad and shocking news for our whole community here and now we all expect a very transparent investigation into this.

"It is very important to re-establish the sanctity of foreign office here as we all give highest honour and respect to anyone holding this office and title. 

"We are only standing with one who has integrity, honesty and highest regard for Pakistan."

Pakistani diplomat is not the only one came into lime light with allegations In western world. In 2014, an Indian diplomat was charged in New York with visa fraud and making false statements about a domestic worker.

Last year Pakistan was also rocked by the news of 10-year-old domestic servant Tayyaba who was allegedly burned by an iron at the residence of a local judge in Islamabad whom she was working for.

Reactions on social media

Pakistani community members also expressed strong reactions over social media, calling on the High Commissioner to come clean on the matter.

Some users also pointed to cases where people had fabricated stories in the hopes of seeking asylum in Western countries like Australia and demanded an investigation by Pakistan's Foreign Office.

The media in Pakistan has also picked up the news, with one anchor, Sami Abraham of the news Channel Bol, called on the country's Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar to take notice of alleged abuse by the Pakistani diplomat in Australia. 

The story has again ignited the debate of immunity to foreign diplomats that limits the power of Australian authorities to intervene against abuse of personal servant of diplomats.

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop said "the Australian Government has strict procedures and checks to ensure foreign diplomats comply with Australian laws and regulations when they bring privately employed staff to work in their households."

"DFAT treats allegations of mistreatment of domestic workers by foreign diplomats very seriously and are a matter for the police," she said.

community reaction
community member/group facebook

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