By Kay Johnson
ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan will stick to an agreement to take back citizens who are deported from mainland Europe, a top EU official said on Monday, days after a Pakistani minister said it was suspending a deal under which thousands per year are repatriated.
European Union nations signed the accord with Islamabad in 2009 allowing them to repatriate illegal Pakistani immigrants and other nationalities who transited through Pakistan on their way to Europe.
Last week, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar said airlines returning deportees without Pakistani permission would be penalized.That raised concerns in Europe as the continent faces its biggest influx of migrants in decades and seeks to streamline procedures for repatriations, with a debate about possible security risks from the often unchecked flow of humanity thrown into sharp focus by the Nov. 13 militant attacks in Paris.
Nisar also said Pakistan would not accept any deportees accused of militant links without clear evidence of guilt.
EU migrations commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos met on Monday with Pakistan's foreign policy chief and interior minister to discuss the concerns.
"I think after the talks today ... everything is back to normal," Avramopoulos told reporters.
There was no immediate comment on the meeting from the Pakistani side.
Avramopoulos said the EU would work with Pakistan to improve its verifications of citizenship before sending anyone back to Pakistan.
Avramopoulos decried any backlash in the wake of the attacks against Muslims in Europe or refugees fleeing war, but said returning irregular migrants was a separate issue.
"It's not about softer or tougher rules. It's about rules," he said.
EU officials acknowledged on Monday that at least two returnees may have been repatriated on grounds of unproven militant links.
An estimated 50,000 Pakistanis travel legally to Europe for work each year. Last year, about 21,000 living there without permission were ordered to return to Pakistan, according to EU statistics.
Migrants from Pakistan, who often pay human smugglers to get to Europe, are given refugee status in less than 20 percent of cases, compared to about 60 percent of asylum seekers from war-torn neighbor Afghanistan, EU statistics show.
Some European leaders are calling for tighter immigration controls over fears of Islamic State infiltration after the Paris attacks, which killed 130 people and wounded about 200.
(Writing by Kay Johnson; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and John Stonestreet)