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Migration and Pakistan – Re:Speech

Migration and Pakistan


Pakistan is a country of nearly 200 million people, over 70% of which are under the age of 30.




Yes, that is right. That makes Pakistan one of the youngest populations in the world. Ordinarily, this should be a cause for celebration as it presents a tremendous opportunity to develop and build a country and its economy with this thriving labour force. Unfortunately, things are less rosy. In the following sections, we briefly explore the various drivers and influencers of different types of migration from Pakistan.

Literacy and access to education

The literacy rate in Pakistan, defined as ‘the ability to read and write own name’ is about 50%. One of the lowest in world. Millions of school age children never see the insides of a school. Many more are unable to finish even the lowest level, primary school of 5 years duration, due to a complex array of factors and reasons beyond their control. Extreme poverty, insecurity and systemic abuses by state & non-state actors mean nearly half of the population is facing real and extreme existential crisis. Millions of children continue to be in labour, primarily as household servants but also as help for their parents in agricultural and bonded labour.  Such circumstances means millions of young people are forced to look outwards for survival prospects and migration, both internal and external is often the only chance at a livelihood.


Here under are some factors the influence and even drive migration in Pakistan:
Geographical Location
Pakistan, due to its geography is one of the most volatile and unstable regions of the world. The relations with the neighbouring countries have been rocky to say the least.
•    India: Both countries have fought 3 bitter conventional wars, the last of which as nuclear powers and maintaining large military force has drained scarce resources that should be better spent on education of the masses and providing other basic services such as medical facilities and infrastructure. In terms of migration, there has been very limited migration from Pakistan to India after the initial waves of millions crossing borders of the newly formed republics of India and Pakistan at the end of British colonial rule. Millions of people died and many more were displaced in the sectarian and communal riots. The long standing territorial dispute with India in the region of Kashmir has resulted in thousands of people to move within the country to safer southern regions. In recent times, some families from the Hindu minority have migrated to India due to hostility and violence directed at them by extremists.
•    Afghanistan: War and militancy has been a constant security threat throughout Soviet Invasion and resulting fight back by the mujahedeen (funded and supported by major Western powers). A lot of money flew through Pakistan based religious and military units that later led to formation of and control of the country under Taliban. The war on terror brought on a second major wave of misery on the whole region and the suffering continues to this day. The border areas most harshly suffering under all these campaigns have produced the most internally and internationally displaced people who have had to seek safety and livelihood elsewhere. Hundreds of thousands of Pakistanis and Afghans temporarily cross borders every year for business and family reasons. Examining the continuous repercussions of the war on terror on this region in particular requires specialist research of its own.
•    Iran: Pakistan may have had mostly peaceful relations with Iran but there have been many tensions over the years due to links with the minority Shiite population that make up close to 10% of total in Pakistan. There have been accusation of Iran supporting militant elements within the Shiite minority in Pakistan or many years. There is not a significant migration from Pakistan to Iran but Shiite pilgrims visit the country and mutual trade relations go back centuries.
•    China is often considered Pakistan’s only ally in the region and the mutual relations have been based on shared interests. Currently, China is investing in a multi-billion dollar infrastructure investment project, ‘China Pakistan Economic Corridor’ that aims to link the Western parts of China to Southern sea ports of Pakistan. Proponents of the project hope to stimulate Pakistan’s struggling economy and generate millions of jobs in future. China has been host to increasing number of university students from Pakistan in fields of medicine and engineering. There is no significant migration to be recorded from Pakistan to China.
•    The Gulf Countries: since the discovery of oil in the various parts of the Arabian Peninsula, migrants from the Indian sub-continent and a large number of them being from Pakistan have made their way to these countries in search of manual jobs that usually pay much higher salaries than the unskilled occupation back home. Total number of Pakistani migrants in these countries run in their millions. Large increase in population of the locals of these countries and the lingering effects of the global economic crisis means the prospects of finding employment in these countries has become relatively difficult. Nevertheless, the proximity to India and Pakistan means many Western and Far-Eastern businesses have made Middle-East their regional business hubs and continue to attract migrants in both low and high-skilled fields.
Internal Conflicts
Pakistan is a large country in terms of population and its 200 million people come from many different ethnicities and religious persuasions. Many languages are spoken in Pakistan including Urdu, Punjabi, Pashto, Dari, Balochi, Saraiki, Hazara, Hindko, Sindhi, Balti, Kashmiri and many smaller languages and dialects. These differences are often fuelled due to economic and political hardships resulting in suffering for the most vulnerable in the society. The many waves of religious and politically motivated violence have forced many people to flee the affected parts of the country or even the country itself. Up to a million people are classified as Internally Displaced People (IDPs). These people have been forced out of their homes and communities due to the violence and resulting military operations. After effectively losing their homes and livelihoods, many seek to find settlement in other countries.
Religiously motivated violence
The military dictatorship of General Zia-ul-Haq introduced ‘Sharia compliant’ penal code in Pakistan and with the advent of Afghanistan occupation by Soviet Union, militancy influenced by the various religious doctrines took strong roots in seminaries across Pakistan. These seminaries (Madrassahs) are often the only possibility for poor families to have their children gain literacy and food. The madrassahs, many of them are funded by foreign states like Saudi Arabia have led whole generation of people that are effectively living in a parallel society and have provide foot soldiers for the Western supported resistance to Soviet Union as well as the ensuing Islamist movements of Al-Qaeda, Taliban and now regional factions of Islamic State. The militancy within Pakistan has resulted in hundreds of victims of terrorism where local as well as international organisations have targeted civilians and representatives of the state.
As part of the Sharia Compliant Penal Code, blasphemy and heresy are punishable by death and even an accusation of these crimes has resulted in lynching by crowds. This has been one of the main reasons of flight of many minorities out of Pakistan, for example the Ahmadya Muslims but also Christians, Hindus and minority Muslims of Hazara and Ismaili among others. Many prominent cases have even gained coverage in international media. The state has failed to protect lives and property of minorities and it is often the last resort for them to seek refuge in a foreign country.

Economically driven migration
The biggest motivator for migration out of Pakistan continues to be economic factors. A country with a relatively young population, poor education and training and instable industrial growth offers very limited prospects for earning a living. The population living below the line of poverty is estimated between 22% and 30%. Traditionally, Pakistan has been an agrarian society (over 40% of the work force are employed in this field) but with increasing population and ever shrinking cultivated land per capita, the pressure is on the young work force to seek out other means of employment. The economic migration out of Pakistan can be categorised in two major sections.
a.    Low and unskilled labour: the majority of Pakistani labour force in the nearby Gulf region is low and unskilled. They stand to earn a salary that is promising in comparison to earnings in Pakistan. These migrant workers are often facing systemic abuses in the host countries and extremely poor working conditions and a majority of them are unable to carry on these jobs beyond 50 years of age and have no other option but to return to the country of origin. During the recent years, many have tried to reach Europe through both land and sea routes. These journeys are undertaken via help of people smugglers who charge hefty fees ranging from $5000 to $15000 for an undocumented worker to an EU country. These are hefty sums of money for a country where an average worker earns less than $90 a month. In many cases, people sell their property, family heirlooms and even organs such as kidneys to finance such undertakings. Many people smugglers take family members hostage or in bonded labour until the migrant that successfully reaches EU is able to pay back the money. There were two separate waves of unskilled migrants that went to Norway after discovery of the country’s oil reserves and in Britain to work in the textile industries in the post-world war shortage of manual labour. The two communities continue to attract further migration in the form of family reunion.
b.    The skilled workers are university graduates that include doctors, engineers and IT specialists. The number one target of this group is also the Gulf countries due to their close proximity but a substantial number of these high-skilled workers continues to find work and settlement in North America, UK and Australia. The main factor in the selection of host countries is the language barrier and the ability of this group to speak English makes adjustment and integration in majority English speaking countries easier. Since the introduction of Masters level university courses in Germany, the number of students have been steadily increasing since 2001. The major pull of Germany are the fact that no university fees are charged (compared to avg. $15,000 in USA) and the stable German economy focused on engineering and manufacturing. The combined skilled and unskilled migrants to North America number add up to half a million. In the recent years, Australia and Malaysia have attracted a significant amount of high-skilled migrants from Pakistan and numbers are estimated to be 50,000 for each country. This so called ‘brain drain’ is detrimental to industrial and social progress in Pakistan due to the fact that very few have access to higher education and even fewer remain in the country to contribute. Nevertheless, the remittances are a major life-line for the families that remain.

Afghan Refugees
The case of Afghan diaspora in Pakistan has additional & special dynamics and they often are proportionally over-represented in migration out of Pakistan. At the height of Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, up to 7 million registered Afghan refugees were hosted in Pakistan. Up to 2 million were absorbed by Pashtun tribes bordering Afghanistan, outside the framework of UNHCR. A second wave of refugees was pushed into Pakistan and neighbouring Iran after the US led invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11 and the security situation is yet to resolve. As refugees, they face restrictions in higher education and jobs. Over time, some refugees have been able to integrate into Pakistani society with many becoming Pakistani nationality. Many however continue to languish in poor conditions in refugee camps in Northern parts of the country. According to latest available figures, 2.5 Million documented refugees continue to be hosted in Pakistan with an additional 1 Million that are undocumented.
Like the refugee populations elsewhere, the Afghan refugees have disproportionally higher attempts at seeking refuge in other countries where they have better chances at earning a living and supporting their families.

Pakistan does not track all its nationals living abroad so the exact figures of those carrying Pakistani passport or eligible to acquire one living outside the country are estimated to be about 8.5 million. Up to 4 million of them are in the Arabian (Persian) Gulf countries alone (2.2 million in Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, 1.3 in United Arab Emirates, and rest in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar & Oman). These migrants account for over $18.4 Billion last year in remittances for the cash strapped country playing a vital role in the economy (State Bank of Pakistan figures, released in 2015). This cash injection is also the single biggest source of foreign direct investment.
The drivers of emigration from Pakistan are complex but the number one reason is economic depravity, followed closely by religious and political persecution. In order to stem this flow of people outwards, drastic measures must be taken to improve infrastructure in terms of roads, schools and hospitals and improve governance and transparency. The state organs are very weak and a concerted international support is required to help avert large scale disaster and suffering for millions in the country and the whole region. In the short term, the trends of emigration will continue and numbers will rise.

Ali Akbar

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