Reports that 11 Pakistanis drowned off the coast of Libya as they tried to make the crossing to Europe, probably bound for Sicily, are probably an underestimate. There were said to be around 90 on the boat that foundered and that most were from Pakistan. The crossing from Libya to Europe is not one usually favoured by Pakistanis and is a reflection of the effectiveness of the deterrent moves made particularly by Turkey in 2016 and 2017 to stem the flow of migrants from the wars of the Middle East. There was always a leavening of Pakistanis in the mix. Many made it through Turkey and on to the Greek islands offshore and thence to the mainland.
Crossing the Mediterranean in a small boat in the winter is extremely risky. Storms are sudden and frequent. Pakistanis made up the 13th largest group trying to make the crossing in 2017 with 3,138 arriving in Italy but already this year Pakistan has climbed up to 13th on the scale with 240 landing in Italy in January alone compared to nine in January last year.
Tragic as the number of deaths is it begs the question — why? Why are so many Pakistanis, mostly but not exclusively single men, risking everything, going into debt and launching themselves into the unknown, just to leave their country of birth? These are not educated skilled professionals; these are the young unemployed who see no hope in the motherland. If they make it they will face a life in migration camps living hand to mouth and with little chance of employment. Europe has no shortage of manual labourers and does not need any more Pakistanis, who are going to depend on creaking and overstretched welfare systems across the EU and the UK. Desperation and false hopes drive these poor people. For them, Pakistan has failed their dreams. In real terms the numbers trying to get into Europe illegally is tiny compared to the population as a whole, but for the thousands that try to get away there are many more thousands, perhaps millions, who would if they could. A miserable indictment. Expect no improvement.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 4th, 2018.
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