Getting back to work

November 28, 2021

With some support and hard work, difficult times can be overcome

Share Next Story >>>

Many Pakistanis go abroad looking for better prospects. However, for different reasons, many of them have to return. Most of them find it difficult to reintegrate and settle economically in their home country as they are not fully aware of the trends and dynamics of the job market and businesses.

The News on Sunday talked to four migrants returning from Europe and the Gulf region who have overcome the difficulties and started new lives in their home country. The Pakistani-German Facilitation and Reintegration Centre (PGFRC) in Lahore, established by the German development agency, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), supports returning migrants to find better opportunities for a good living. The centre offers support and advice on training and skills development.

Running a small general store in a Gujrat city neighbourhood, Abdul Jabbar sounds content with earning a decent livelihood for himself and his family. He has lived in Firenze (Florence), Italy, for five years.

Jabbar recounts his perilous voyage to the European shores on a boat that nearly killed him and some other people. Without any previous experience or training, Jabbar, an illegal Pakistani immigrant, had sailed through the Mediterranean Sea with a dozen others from Turkey to Greece.

Jabbar and his two other Pakistani companions then made their way to Italy. One of them had a cousin living there, also illegally.

“There were a lot of other illegal migrants from Pakistan and some other countries; our locality was overcrowded,” he recalls.

When Covid-19 hit the world, European countries, especially Italy, Germany, France and Spain faced a crisis. Industries were shut down leaving many people without jobs. The situation created serious problems for everyone, especially undocumented migrants.

“Private healthcare is very expensive for undocumented migrants. It is also risky because you are supposed to have legal documents,” he says. Jabbar, who remained ill for one and a half years, had to spend whatever savings he had before he left for Italy with an empty pocket. His health and financial situation remained precarious for a couple of months after his return.

He tried to get some loan to start a small business to feed his family. He was finally able to get some money to start a small grocery store. However, the store never produced enough income for his day-to-day needs until he joined the business development training organised by the PGFRC.

“That training was the turning point in my life,” says Jabbar. “They taught me how to make my business successful. The new skills helped me run my store better. The support in the form of grocery items costing Rs 100,000 has turned around my financial conditions,” Jabbar adds. Now, according to him, the debt has been paid off and the grocery store is attracting more customers than ever.

Tahir Manzoor is another illegal immigrant who had dreams of becoming rich. He has lived in the Vicenza city of Italy. He had to come back in 2016 from Italy when conditions became too harsh for people like him.

When Covid-19 hit the world, European countries, especially Italy, Germany, France and Spain faced a crisis. Industries were shut down leaving many people without jobs. The situation created serious problems for everyone, especially undocumented migrants.

Manzoor had landed in Italy on a visit visa arranged by an immigration agent. He did not leave Italy after the visa expired. He was a labourer there and used to work all the time but was unable to save a significant amount of money.

Therefore, he decided to return. Manzoor had no savings when he landed at the airport. On the other hand, his family had nothing to support him with. They had already paid a hefty amount to the agent who had managed to get him the visit visa.

After doing menial jobs for three years, Manzoor decided to open a small general store in his locality. However, the business did not attract a good number of customers because he neither had sufficient number of items nor the skills to enhance his business.

A friend referred him to the PGFRC. “I believe training in entrepreneurship changed my economic conditions,” says Manzoor. His general store, according to him, is now flourishing since the support he received in the form of food and beverage items in a sufficient quantity. “The support helped me enhance my business. In addition, I learnt to be a good salesman. This skill is helping me a lot.”

Kuwait is one of the choice destinations for expats all over the world, including Pakistanis. In March 2020, Kuwait announced to increase the number of Pakistani skilled workforce in several trades. It was considered great news for the Pakistani workforce since 2011 Kuwait had stopped issuing visas to the citizens of Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Afghanistan, citing the difficult security conditions in these countries.

Khalid Rasheed, a resident of Harbanspura in Lahore, has returned from Kuwait. He had gone there on a work visa and ended up as a cloth trader. He came back to Pakistan in February 2020 but could not go back when Kuwait imposed a ban on international travel.

Rasheed says that his stay in Kuwait offered him a good financial opportunity which was, unfortunately, taken away by the pandemic. He had seven months before his work visa expired.

While being in Pakistan, Rasheed tried very hard to start a business but all his efforts were in vain and his savings dried up.

“It was a nightmare for me and my family,” he says. “Whatever I had left, I invested in cloth supplies. The circumstances were dreadful. I could feel that everything was slipping out of my hand, fast.”

During that time, Rasheed came to know about the training institute and their programmes for helping people become good entrepreneurs. He received the training which helped him find the best possible opportunity in his surroundings.

After the training, he decided to be a supplier of beverages in the market. He started supplying different types of beverages to various places. “I started this business on my motorcycle. After a few months, I purchased a small second-hand car to expand my reach,” says Rasheed.

This training has given me confidence required to explore new opportunities in the market and take risks using the skills acquired from the training, Rasheed concludes.

Shakir Ali, a resident of Serai Alamgir, is also one of those who became part of the support programmes. Ali enrolled in the training sessions and came out with the idea of a start-up.

For several years previously, Ali had lived in Dusseldorf, Germany. He was a non-skilled labourer and had been unable to learn German language. Being an illegal expat without any skill, he could not find a good job. For him things were always bleak.

“All those years, every day I would go to work thinking that one day I would achieve the success I dreamt of,” he tells TNS. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. “Finally, seeing my existence at risk, I decided to come back,” he says.

The difficult days for Ali did not end even on returning home. He saw a ray of hope, however, when he came to know about the PGFRC and got himself enrolled there.

“Now, I own a grocery store. The support in-kind, and the advice from the centre have helped a lot. I can foresee that the most difficult time is going to end soon,” Ali says.

The writer is a staff member

More From Political Economy