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September 30, 2020

The Pakistani diaspora in the UK


September 30, 2020

Though Covid-19 has unearthed the inequalities facing various minority ethnic groups in the UK, it is a symptom of greater, pre-existing problems for the Pakistani diaspora. Such problems include issues of inclusion, integration and discrimination.

The next census by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) will be held next year which will present a more accurate picture of the Pakistani diaspora that currently resides here. As of the 2011 ONS census, Pakistanis were the second largest non-white ethnic groups after Indians in the UK; constituting roughly 2 per cent of the population. As an ethnic group, Pakistanis were among the groups that had the greatest increase in number between the 2001 and 2011 censuses.

Thus, despite representing a large portion of UK society, the Pakistani diaspora (inclusive of Pakistanis and British Pakistanis) has faced numerous issues that extend before and beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the most significant issues is, unfortunately, racism.

Research conducted by Professor Gwilym Pryce of the University of Sheffield in 2019 investigated how homeowners in the UK responded to people moving in next door with Pakistani or Muslim names. The research suggested that, “on average, the length of stay of homeowners with white British names is significantly reduced if home buyers with Pakistani or other Muslim names move within 50 metres.”

Though Professor Pryce noted that this is not evidence in itself of “anti-Pakistani or anti-Muslim sentiment,” this particular study in Glasgow exemplified “white flight” on a small scale that “may be partly driven by latent aversion to having neighbours with Pakistani or Muslim names.” The term “white flight” was originally used to refer to the phenomenon in 1950s American when white people left the cities in great numbers as black people increasingly moved to them.

It is important to note, however, that the research also suggested that, as more people moved in with Pakistani or Muslim names, the decrease in the length of stay of white homeowners began to ease. This embodies the power of human exposure whereby people discriminate against and fear others less once they come to know that group of people.

However, the research is inherently telling of another issue facing the Pakistani diaspora which is the conflation of Pakistanis with Muslims and vice versa. Despite the fact that Pakistan is an Islamic Republic with an overwhelmingly Muslim population, the terms ‘Pakistani’ and ‘Muslim’ ought not to be used so interchangeably.

Indeed, in his chapter of the book entitled Extreme Right Wing Political Violence and Terrorism, Robert Lambert claimed that the media had a role to play in the shift from the anti-Pakistani sentiment of the 1960s towards modern Islamophobia. Lambert exemplifies this interchangeability through the murder of Kamal Raza Butt in 2005, a Pakistani man labelled “Taliban” before his attackers savaged him.

It goes without saying how much the Pakistani diaspora in the UK and Muslims, whether Pakistani or not, have suffered as a result of their alleged association with Islamic terrorism in the aftermath of each terror attack in the US or UK. Yet, there has been no real concerted effort by government to address the anti-Pakistani sentiment and Islamophobia which continues to plague the UK. Year on year, reports by the advocacy group ‘Hope Not Hate,’ detail how Muslims suffer around half of all religiously motivated hate crime.

Anti-Pakistani sentiment has also been a continuous problem. A 2013 YouGov study suggested that most of the British public considered the Pakistani community to be poorly integrated within British society. Unsurprisingly, those who tended to read tabloid newspapers claimed that Pakistanis were not integrating well given the tabloids’ “sensational treatment of news”. But it did show that those who had contact with Pakistanis as friends or colleagues were more likely to suggest that they were integrating well, compared to those who had ‘no contact’ with Pakistanis.

However, the same YouGov study found that public opinion of Pakistanis was, in some categories, more positive than opinion of other minority backgrounds. For example, Pakistanis are viewed as hardworking and entrepreneurial and less likely to be a drain on the state than other groups.

The YouGov report also rightly acknowledged the work of the World Congress of Overseas Pakistanis (WCOP), which seeks to empower Pakistanis who live around the world through working tirelessly in collaborative efforts with international and national bodies.

Pakistanis, like WCOP’s co-founder and chairman Syed Qamar Raza, have embodied this hardworking and entrepreneurial spirit for many years. It is people like this who we, as Brits, have a duty to celebrate. They support British Pakistanis to fulfil their potential and, being as British as anyone else, their success ought to be celebrated.

It is not sufficient to merely claim, as white Brits, to be the ally of our Pakistani diaspora. The evidence above suggests that negative opinions of the Pakistani diaspora only really exist when they are not integrated with other Brits. Pakistanis cannot be held wholly accountable for their integration; it is as much the responsibility of white Brits to ensure Pakistanis are well integrated through hospitable and open-minded behaviour. After all, wouldn’t we hope for the same if we were to move to Pakistan?

We have to embody this alliance with our counterparts in all that we do. We must celebrate the achievements of our Pakistani and British Pakistani neighbours who, in spite of challenging adversities they face, have not only succeeded but used their success for the betterment and empowerment of others.

The writer has just completed her MTheol degree at the University of St Andrews in Scotland and now works as a researcher.

Twitter: @MaryFloraHunter