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Fleeting moments

November 18, 2019

Illegal migrants

Opinion

November 18, 2019

Whenever occupants of a sinking boat in high seas are rescued, quite a few among them turn out to be our compatriots. An increasing tendency to migrate to developed countries in search of better opportunities is noticed among citizens belonging to the lowe-incomer segment of our society. The travel plan they adopt to migrate is usually suspect and hazardous.

Under-developed countries that have low income face the dilemma of intense population pressure. Whatever social and economic steps for development these countries undertake fall short of the public demand because of the burgeoning population. In fact, poverty, low literacy and high population growth go hand in hand in causing frustration among the youth. Scratch a young man a little and you’d find an enraged and ranting soul inside.

A jobless youth recently tried to immolate himself in Lahore, which only shows the level of increasing despondency in securing jobs. Due to lack of job opportunities, many young men want to escape abroad by whatever means, which includes utilising the services of human smugglers.

It was officially reported in February this year that 50,000 Pakistanis illegally lived in Turkey. After Afghans, Pakistanis were the largest community of illegal migrants there. Poor Afghans may have a plausible reason to seek refuge in Turkey or elsewhere because of the devastation wreaked upon them during the last eighteen years war by the US-led forces. Citizens think of migrating only when the living conditions in their own countries force them to do so; otherwise, not many would like to leave their native lands for foreign shores.

In our case, it’s the failure of successive governments in controlling the population growth, the outcome of which is widespread unemployment. After all, about 520,000 of our nationals being deported on various charges reportedly from 135 countries is a serious matter that deserves government attention. Those who leave their native land to settle abroad do so to earn a decent living and support their families. These fortune seekers are an easy prey to human smugglers. We had heard of sea pirates and smugglers of merchandise but human smugglers nowadays top the list of this profession. They call themselves manpower exporters.

When foreigners visit this country and drive around in posh areas of sprawling cities like Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, they can hardly believe that a vast majority here would be living hand to mouth. The living conditions in smaller cities are even worse and sources of earning a livelihood limited.

However, a pattern of migration from different areas is noticeable. Those wanting to migrate to Europe and Scandinavian countries mostly belong to Gujranwala, Gujrat, Lala Musa and Kharian. In the 1970s and 80s, such a large number of individuals migrated to Denmark and Norway from Kharian and surroundings that they wished Norway be renamed as Kharway, according to some rumoured stories. Similarly, job seekers from the backward districts of Muzafargarh, Dera Ghazi Khan and Rajanpur headed to Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Although remittances by expatriates may be one of the major sources of foreign exchange for the country, depending on the earnings of the labour class, especially in the Gulf States, is hardly a matter of any pride for the nation. Expat workers there put in hard labour and live in shabby conditions. Politicians don’t tire of boasting about how huge deposits of precious metals and minerals remain untapped in the country – why not exploit the natural resources instead of counting on the earnings of expatriates? We are tired of hearing about large deposits of gold, copper, chromite, iron, and lithium in Balochistan.

If we had the capacity or the will to exploit the natural resources, our citizens would not be languishing in foreign jails facing charges of illegal migration. Lately, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed a Senate Committee on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development how some asylum seekers tore up their passports and faced tormenting conditions in overseas jails but refused assistance from Pakistani missions to return home. Nothing can be more disappointing than losing hope of honourable survival in one’s native land.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.

Email: [email protected]

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