The subcontinent has a history of migration of hundreds of years. Many invaders came and settled here after occupying various parts of this region, which had its own distinct identity and is home to oldest civilization of the world.
However, the biggest migration in this region took place at the end of British Colonial rule on August 14/15, 1947 resulting in political division of Indian subcontinent into two independent nation-states--India and Pakistan. In the words of a historian of modern South Asia Vazira Fazila?Yacoobali Zamindar, “While numbers vary, it is estimated that up to one million people were killed during the violence in 1947, and around 50,000 women were abducted. Some 12 million people were displaced in the divided province of Punjab alone, and up to 20 million in the subcontinent as a whole. Thus the India-Pakistan Partition resulted in one of the largest forced migrations of the 20th century.”
UNHCR estimated that around 14 million people were displaced during the partition. The 1951 Census of Pakistan identified the number of displaced persons in Pakistan at 7,226,600. Similarly, the 1951 Census of India enumerated 7,295,870 displaced persons. The two numbers add up to 14.5 million.
After 1947, the hopes and aspirations of people of Pakistan, to have a country of immense opportunities, somehow didn’t materialise. The pain and sufferings of people led to another disaster in 1971, just six years after partition, when its eastern wing, separated itself to become an independent country -Bangladesh. The historical records show that events of 1971 caused the upheaval of nearly 10 million people, and the death of possibly three million more.
Leaving one’s comfortable dwelling and moving to another place, under compelling circumstances, isn’t an easy decision. After 1971 too, sufferings of people continued forcing them to take risky decisions to migrate to various places, legally or illegally, in search of better opportunities. The Neoclassical economic theory of migration entails that the main reason for labour migration is wage difference between two geographic locations.
The Neoclassical theory takes its origin from the earliest migration theorist and English geographer Ernest Ravenstein, who used census data from England and Wales to develop his “Laws of Migration” (1889). Under these laws, migration is governed by a “push-pull” process; that is, unfavourable conditions in one place “push” people out, and favourable conditions in an external location “pull” them out.
The push-pull process has continued in Pakistan since its inception, resulting in internal as well as external migration. Poverty, resource inequality, poor economic opportunities, specially for youth coupled with the country’s limited resources feeding an increasing population and labour force, are the main reasons for this migration. According to a 2017 IMF report, unemployment rate stands at 5.9% (10.5% among youth and 9.5% among women) and the informal economy is significant. Despite significant progress over the past two decades, poverty remains high at about 30% in 2013 (9% based on the 2001 poverty line). Pakistan currently lacks the capacity to absorb about two million youth entering the already saturated job market every year. As a result, job-seekers tend to relocate to over-crowded cities, where the job market may be more competitive, but salaries remain low, exploitation is rife and where they are at risk without community or family support networks. Compounding this is the problem of underemployment, where skilled and educated individuals work in low-skilled positions in an already overloaded job market. In this context, academic qualifications do not meet the demands of a fast-changing labour market and highly qualified graduates may find themselves unequipped for the technical demands of the job market. Other aggravating factors include political and security instability, corruption, and severe environmental challenges (droughts).
Many Pakistani men and women migrate voluntarily to the Gulf and Europe for low-skilled employment such as domestic service, driving, and construction work; some become victims of labour trafficking. False job offers, and high recruitment fees charged by illegal labour agents or sub-agents of licensed Pakistani overseas employment promoters entrap Pakistanis into sex trafficking and bonded labour. An anti-Pakistan narrative has developed, based partly on the latter, which continued to gain strength over the years, resulting in a poor image both abroad and at home, further fuelling the sense of hopelessness among some youth. This lack of hope is a further incentive to migrate abroad.
A large number of migrants belong to Mandi Bahauddin, Gujrat, Gujranwala and other areas of Punjab province. Data issued by the Interior Ministry of Pakistan has showed that the number of illegal Pakistani deportees was 4330 in 2014 and 2457 in 2015. Official figures show that 544,105 Pakistanis were deported from other countries between 2012 and 2017. More than half were deported from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the rest from Europe, the US, Africa, Turkey and Malaysia. Around 37,500 Pakistanis were deported from UK between 2012 and 2017.
According to a report by International Organization of Migration (IOM), over the past five years, more than 16,000 people have died trying to enter Europe. Pakistanis made up the 13th largest group trying to cross the Mediterranean, with 3,138 of them arriving in Italy in 2017. But they have already climbed to third place in 2018, with an estimated 240 Pakistanis reaching Italy in January, compared to just nine during the same month last year.
The IOM has released a report which concludes that Europe’s Mediterranean border is “by far the world’s deadliest.” A report by the United Nations’ migration agency states that at least 33,761 migrants have died or have gone missing in the Mediterranean between 2000 and 2017.
Illegal Migration: the risks vs opportunities
The culture of chain migration is strong in Pakistan and challenging the status quo that migrating equates to long term economic benefits will be difficult. The trend of illegal migration is so common in parts of Pakistan that it has entered the vernacular as “dunkey lagaana,” which means ‘to fool the system and migrate illegally’. In 2015, there were 457 incidence of migration.
In November 2017, fifteen bullet ridden bodies were found in Kech district of Balochistan. The bodies were of people from different parts of the eastern Punjab province, who were headed to Europe to look for work. Two days later, five more bodies were found. Investigations showed that all of them were shot dead by terrorists.
Similarly, earlier this year, 16 people drowned after the boat, carrying 90 illegal migrants, capsized in the Mediterranean off the Libyan coast due to overload. These 16 people, of whom 14 belonged to Gujrat district and two to Mandi Bahauddin, were making an attempt to sneak into Europe.
There is a horrific account of males and females who attempt to cross borders illegally. The figures show that up to 90% of illegal migrants to the UK are male, in the age bracket of 16-40 and hail from lower middle-income families.
“We were 200 people who went through sea route to Iran. 100 of them died on way,” says Zeeshan who went to Europe through dunkey, despite his family’s discouragement. “They used to beat us with sticks and would tie our heads under the motor and will throw ice cold water on our heads. The wounds were so severe that 3-4 people died in Istanbul,” says Zeeshan who was lucky to survive, while adding, “After finding no work for four years in Iran, we were deported disgracefully to Pakistan. Now I do labour work in my own country with dignity.”
Formally educated in Pakistan, sometimes up to university level, these illegal migrants have significant family, community or established links to the UK. Such people are notably in the districts of Mirpur in Pakistan Administered Kashmir, and Gujrat, Jhelum, Gujranwala, Sialkot, and Mandi Bahauddin in Punjab.
Frustrated with the lack of job opportunities and/or pay gap between Pakistan and Europe, these migrants, with their entrepreneurial mindset, have full support of their parents, who are ready to fund them by selling their assets.
The female illegal migrant to the UK, are usually aged 25-40. Formally educated in Pakistan up to high school or university level, they migrate to join their partner or family members that have previously emigrated (legally or otherwise). These females, instead of resorting to risky land routes, use fraudulent documents to fly to other countries.
From a socio-cultural perspective, family and community pressure on men to find employment to support their families and networks, is the leading factor for people to migrate. Established Pakistani Diaspora communities provide prospective migrants with an opportunity to avail of their support networks, even if it entails attempts at illegal migration. There is a readily available and sophisticated network of document forgers, rogue visa consultants and smugglers operating in Pakistan who encourage and normalise attempts at illegal migration. Once established in the UK, they are in a position to bring family members and spouses from Pakistan, forming a chain migration effect.
“Better economic opportunities is just a myth,” says a man in a video clip uploaded at a website of an online campaign “Uss Raah Par”, for raising awareness about the risks involved in an illegal migration. “After making us to work for 12 hours a day, it seems as if they want a bottle of blood from us too.” The man, who didn’t disclose his name, went there legally but after his visa expired he continued his stay there. He is one of thousands of Pakistanis who are facing sever hardships and get very nominal wages after a hard toil. Experts believe that the amount they spend to go abroad can be used to start a good life in their own country.
While working on themes “Heroes, not victims,” “Don’t change country, change your country”, the campaign encourages people to use legal way to go abroad. The campaign’s main target audience is youth who are usually inclined towards taking short cuts. They also raise awareness among parents to be aware of the risks of their son or daughter being exploited or harmed while in transit or while residing illegally in the UK or any other country, who usually pressure their young children to migrate for better opportunities. They pursue them to invest in the next generation - here.
Legal way the right way
Sending people abroad legally is also a lucrative business. There is a mushrooming growth of consultants’ offices in various metropolitan cities of Pakistan, playing with the youth future. “Consultants usually charge Rs 20,000 for just giving some info about the country, which one can easily take from the internet. People also advised me to use Dunkey, but I didn’t want to put my life and the image of my country at risk,” says Zahid Saleem Sahi, a resident of Mandi Bahuddin.
Zahid wanted to do bar at law from London. “I looked for information on the internet, and took admission in the City University which was offering a program in criminal litigation. After completion of the course, I came back and now serving as Advocate of High of Pakistan, Mandi Bahauddin, gaining the name and fame far earlier than my counterparts abroad,” he added.
Explore the potential within
Javed Akhtar, hailing from a remote rural area of Punjab, came to Islamabad in search of job, under family pressure. “One of the relatives also motivated me to use Dunkey, but I didn’t.” After doing some odd jobs in the capital city, he was finally hired by an Islamabad-based company as office boy, where he started learning camera work, a field he was interested in. His skills sharpened during the devastating earthquake of 2005 and later he joined an organization.
“I am earning an amount equal to what people earn abroad. Making money overnight is just a myth. Even less educated can earn handsomely with some skills. In Europe I met illegal immigrants. They had no place to live, sometimes living in jungles, they work very hard to earn very less. Some of them out of frustration go to police station to be deported to their country. The unfortunate ones lose their lives on way. As a cameraman I have heard heart wrenching stories of parents whose children were either abroad, or are missing or have died, while attempting to migrate illegally.”
Muhammd Ibrahim from Charsadda also explored opportunities within Pakistan and learned audio and video production work in Islamabad. Soon he got a scholarship in a Community College Initiative Program in the USA. Now working in a multinational company at a leading position, he visited many countries of the world, albeit legally. “There is no such thing as short cut, only struggle gives you name and fame,” says Ibrahim.
Migration: An informed choice not a risky chance
The people having valid legal travel document and having all the information about the job and its working conditions, their rights and responsibilities, health insurance, the information about the laws of the country of their destination, can land them in opportunities and will also give them right to fight their cases in case they face any dispute or violation of their rights in any country. There are organizations and offices in Pakistan and abroad which can help them.
Media is also raising awareness about illegal migration. A recent drama serial “Daldal” on HUM TV, had presented in detail the perils of illegal migration for people and their families back home.
On this Independence day, while people’s eyes are on a Naya Pakistan, the new government needs to look for job opportunities for the unemployed youth, who are risking their lives. According to the United National Development Program (UNDP) reports, Pakistan has the largest percentage of youth in the world, comprising 64 percent of country’s total population. With a dismal literacy rate of 58%, the unemployment rate rests at 6%. Studies show that approximately 11% of the Pakistani youth do not have a job and they are also not equipped with any vocational or technical skills to find a place in the changing job market. Similarly, the current labour force participation and unemployment rates suggest that Pakistan’s working age population includes around 3.5 million unemployed individuals. The solution is to use this untapped energy to bring the much needed change, which was promised to this nation. Happy Independence Day
-The author is Editor Supplements of The News