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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 July, 2003, 11:14 GMT 12:14 UK
Big troubles in Little Pakistan

By Shahzeb Jillani
BBC Urdu service correspondent in New York

Little Pakistan
Life in Little Pakistan has changed irrevocably since 11 September

Here in New York City's Brooklyn district is an area that goes by the name of Little Pakistan.

Men and women stroll in the traditional clothing of the shalwar kameez.

You can shop in outlets such as the Urdu Bazaar, buy sweetmeats and Indian films.

But the atmosphere changed after 11 September. The area was raided by the FBI and suspected illegal immigrants were rounded up.

And nearly two years later, that is still happening.

I met a journalist from the local weekly newspaper, the Voice of Pakistan, outside the area's central place of worship, the Makki mosque.

It was nearly time for Friday prayers and people were converging upon the mosque from every direction.

"We know that now we are in their sights," he says.

"If we make even the smallest mistake or break any rules, we'll be picked up on the pretext of being questioned and thrown behind bars."


I also come across ZA Wani, a young lawyer from Srinagar in Kashmir, who handles immigration cases.

It is thought that thousands have fled from the US to Canada

Of late, he says, many people have been picked up by the intelligence agencies purely on suspicion and only released six to eight months later when investigations have uncovered nothing.

During their incarceration, the families suffer financial loss and emotional distress.

Some of the men, unable to pay their mortgage, lose their homes and are reduced to living on the streets.

Bobby Khan, president of a local welfare organisation, says that after 11 September, half of the Pakistanis in the district either left the country or were detained by the government.

Pakistani drivers of New York's yellow cabs have predictably strong and conflicting views.

A few believe law-abiding Pakistanis face no particular difficulties and that only those who break the law are being arrested and making a fuss about it.

Others say their view of America has changed for the worse.

They say people are no longer as friendly as they used to be.

Little Pakistan
Businesses have suffered since 11 September

One says people avoid eye contact if you are of Middle Eastern appearance.

Yusufzai, a young man from Peshawar in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province, says he has been living in New York for 10 years.

He drives a cab two days a week and works towards his IT masters degree the other five.

"I know several people who got so tired of worrying about getting arrested that they quit their jobs, closed shop and moved to Canada," he says.

While it is difficult to say how many Pakistanis have sought shelter in Canada, the number is believed to run into the thousands.

United stand

There appears to have been no concerted effort on the part of Pakistani organisations in the US to help immigrants resolve their problems.

US Attorney General John Ashcroft
John Ashcroft has been accused of antipathy towards Muslims

As for the Pakistani embassy, the general impression is that it is unable to intervene in the US government's extensive anti-terrorism operation.

Most believe there will be little change in the post-11 September attitude in the near future.

The recent statements by Attorney-General John Ashcroft hardly bring solace to any Muslims in the US.

A staunch advocate of further strengthening the country's anti-terrorism laws, Mr Ashcroft is unapologetic in the face of criticism that government abuse of power has victimised many innocent people.

US human rights groups accuse him of antipathy towards Muslims.

Still, Little Pakistan is trying to take a united stand.

Whether it is by raising the issue in newspapers, holding peaceful small-scale demonstrations or contacting elected representatives, they are beginning to register their protest at the problems besetting their community.

The landscape has certainly altered since 11 September.

Now Pakistanis believe that if they want to live in the US with dignity, they must participate wholeheartedly in its political process.

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