Almost a quarter of a million people of Pakistan origin have been deported from a range of countries over the last three years. Most of the deportations have been from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, but with significant numbers from Iran, Oman, Greece and the UK. The majority of those from countries in the Arabian Peninsula were there looking for or engaged in, work. Those deported from Iran were described as ‘in transit’ to Greece and reportedly en-route for preference to the UK. The source of the figures is a report by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) entitled ‘Labour migration from Pakistan: 2015 Status Report and it is a bleak picture. Almost a quarter-million people have made or attempted to make improperly documented journeys out of Pakistan, many, perhaps the majority, seeking work. The trend appears to be upwards and there are suggestions that there has been an increase in trafficking and the smuggling of migrants.
Improperly documented travel and the crossing of borders illegally is a growing problem globally. For Pakistan this feeds through to tightened visa requirements and ever-closer inspection of people travelling from Pakistan elsewhere. For people fleeing Syria the reasons for wanting to leave are clear enough, but less so for those wanting to leave Pakistan beyond a lack of work that pays enough to meet their needs.
Herein lies the story that the deportation figures do not tell. The security situation is improving and there is no all-out war being fought within our borders. A small number of those leaving may claim to be doing so as persecuted members of minorities, but they are few. Most are leaving because they cannot get the jobs they need or the jobs that they can get are paid so poorly as to offer little or no incentive to stay. They are often poor and will go into crippling debt to escape a country where they see no future for themselves. Theirs is the untold tragedy and addressing their need the challenge for this and future governments.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 23rd, 2016.