Migration and the continuous brain drain

Many have already left Peshawar while others plan to leave the city in search of better prospects

Iftikhar Firdous March 29, 2016
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Migration from Peshawar continues at an alarming pace even though there are no official statistics on the trend and it is difficult to determine whether the movement of people is legal or illegal. Many have already left Peshawar while others plan to leave the city in search of better prospects.

A quick glance at statistics provided by the International Organization for Migration reveals over a million migrants and refugees have arrived at the Greek Islands via the Eastern Mediterranean route from Turkey since January 2015. At first, this appears to be the story of a distant land. However, it is equally relevant to our country as some 3,703 people who travelled to the islands during the first three months of
2015 were Pakistanis.

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Putting a number on it

There are no official statistics on this trend, however, a large number of labourers abroad are Pukhtun even though the initial migration from Pakistan to other countries during the 1970s and 1980s has declined over time.  According to statistic for 1981, 591,400 residents of the then North-West Frontier Province (now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa) had gone abroad to work.

As per recent statistics, around 7.5% of households in Fata have family members working abroad. The figure is higher than the number of households in K-P (1.38%), Sindh (2.28%) and Balochistan (0.06%). However, it is, more or less, similar to statistics gathered from Punjab (7.4%).

Among the seven agencies of Fata, the proportion is highest for Kurram Agency (25.1%). A large number of people who have died in shipwrecks in the Greek Islands over the last few years are believed to have originated from Kurram. There is little research on these trends and background checks on these migrants remain to be conducted.

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State of flux

Over the years, the trends see gradual changes. Although a vast majority of people who migrate from the country, legally or illegally, remain labourers, a large number of educated and moneyed people have also started leaving the country.

I recently interviewed 25 people from Peshawar who belonged to different economic backgrounds. At least 18 of them preferred to go abroad and were willing to perform odd jobs even if they would have better opportunities locally.

One of the main reasons why people from high-income brackets are moving out of the city and the province eventually is the security situation.

The irony is that while people who travel to countries without legal documentation have to pay Rs0.5 million, they are hesitant to invest the same money locally.

Another form of migration, which has become common among residents of K-P and Fata, is an outcome of ethno-sectarian conflicts. This is a subject seldom discussed on official platforms and remains under-researched because of the risks involved.

A depleted workforce

At this stage, it seems there are very few capable people left to fill vacant posts in several sectors. While the brain drain continues, it will not only impact the job market but also have an implication on the quality of work.

Unfortunately, the recently approved population policy does not shed light on these topics that require more serious discussions.

Internal or external migration is linked to other problems that prevail in the country, especially the security situation. Perhaps the discourse surrounding this issue will only enter the mainstream when it is too late to act.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 30th,  2016.


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