A Land Of Promise: As illegal migrants pour into Karachi, who keeps count?

Published: October 26, 2012
The ministry of interior’s website notes that Pakistan is currently carrying the burden of an estimated 3.35 million illegal migrants.

The ministry of interior’s website notes that Pakistan is currently carrying the burden of an estimated 3.35 million illegal migrants.


For decades, the numerous slum areas of Pakistan’s economic hub, Karachi, have been home to a large number of illegal migrants – but the body responsible for handling them has been found wanting for a decade now.

The ministry of interior’s website notes that Pakistan is currently carrying the burden of an estimated 3.35 million illegal migrants – and, out of these, according to a survey of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), 75% have settled in Karachi.

“Illegal migrants opt for Karachi when they leave their countries because they have well-established links with some people of their community over here who make arrangements for them,” said Sharafat Ali of Piler.

Ali revealed an international migration phenomenon where illegal migrants tend to opt for port cities such as Karachi. This is primarily because, usually being the largest city of the country, it offers more opportunities to potential labourers in terms of competent wage rates. A major factor in the influx of illegal migrants remains, according to Piler’s official, the strong connections these potential workers have with the residents of Karachi’s slums along with an economically attractive coast line.

The federal body responsible for the registration of migrants, National Aliens Registration Authority (Nara), has so far registered only 125,000 illegal migrants since it started work in 2002.

“We have less than a 100 people in our staff across the country and our field [work] is non-functional which is why we have low performance,” said an official of Nara, asking not to be named.

“The federal government had to establish a taskforce to ensure implementation of Nara’s rules which has not been formed yet. This is why we can’t launch operations to arrest illegal migrants,” the official said adding that currently their registration was operating on a voluntary basis only.

“Sometimes, we find them [illegal migrants] but we can’t force them to register as we have no powers to arrest them or conduct raids in the city. We have to ask the police for help if we need to locate someone whose card validity date has expired.”

According to the official, migrants from more than 64 countries currently reside in Karachi with a majority coming in from Bangladesh. Around 100,000 of the illegal migrants are Bengalis who live in areas including the Machar Colony, Ibrahim Haideri and Musa Colony. The second largest percentage of illegal migrants in Karachi is of people from Burma.

“Bengalis are definitely more than our registration data [suggests]. They themselves claim their number to be up to 2 million and most of them have obtained Computerised National Identity Cards (CNIC) through some means and are involved in different businesses,” he said. They reportedly enter the country through the Punjab border and then reach Karachi.

He added that foreigners take advantage of the population’s heterogeneity, and they easily blend and mix in. “We have registered people from different African countries, Iran and Middle East,” he said.

Nara operates from eight zone offices and a head office, all based in Karachi. “We send out our staff members if people from other cities want to register. But people don’t want to be called foreigners, which is why they don’t want to go through with the official alien registration.”

Giving a background of the organisation, the official said that Nara was established in 2001 through Foreigners (Amendment) Ordinance 2000 to register aliens and allot alien registration cards, which are valid up to a year and can be extended. The card exempts them from punishments under the Foreign Act 1946 and protects them from undue harassment from state agencies. It also gives them legal status; they can open bank accounts, mobile connections, vehicles and their licenses, receive education and utility connections. Nara also issues work permits to the aliens seeking employment.

When contacted to comment on the performance of the body, Nara’s director general was unavailable.

Published in The Express Tribune, October 26th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (13)

  • amused
    Oct 26, 2012 - 10:14AM

    now these bangladeshi pole vaulters have even reached pakistan


  • Sindhi_Pakistani
    Oct 26, 2012 - 10:42AM

    Karachi is heaven for illegal immigrants. Thanks to over-sized immigration over the years, the heartland of Sindh-Karachi city has lost glory of Sindhi culture and language. Our city is getting alien to us due to unfair policies of respective governments. We are turning minority in our own province. Current SPLG Bill by PPP is another attack on Sindhi people, they are pushed to react. Our language, culture, land and resources are under threat, and no one is listening to our genuine concerns. If State wont perform with justice and continue unfair attitude towards Sindh and Sindhis, I fear that sense of deprivation will rise, which may culminate into more chaos and new Balochistan crisis. Act before things get more worse. A request to government to expel all illegal immigrants, promote Sindhi language in Sindh and remove anti-Sindh SPLG Bill.


  • Jenai dau
    Oct 26, 2012 - 11:14AM

    @sindhi pakistani..well bro u have the rest of the sindh to inforce sindhi language as an official language so just leave karachi alone cause the majority of people speak urdu here and our national language is also urdu..so start building More schools and learning institutions in interior sindh and stop hating the milticultural metropoliton city where people at the moment they dont but will have freedom and succes beacause of the nature of tolerence of the people of karachi towards new comers to the city they are welcome as long as they are hardworking and law abiding citizens bringing more progress and flavor to the city of Karachi.


  • Ali S
    Oct 26, 2012 - 11:43AM

    Not to mention the drug and gun culture these people bring with them. Their need to be regular police/Rangers raids in these areas like there are in Lyari and we need to be tougher on them.Recommend

  • Randomstranger
    Oct 26, 2012 - 12:45PM

    Not to sound negative, but illegal immigrants should find somewhere else to migrate to. Pakistan has a very fragile economic situation nowadays, and 80% of native Pakistanis want to leave the country. “Well whose stopping them?”.


  • Akshay, India
    Oct 26, 2012 - 2:02PM

    There are 30 lakh Bangladeshi immigrants in Assam. There are over 1 crore in whole of India. Now even in Pakistan! Whats wrong with Bangladeshis!!! Go back to your country.


  • Oct 26, 2012 - 3:02PM

    You have to be pretty desperate to migrate to Pakistan! Anyway you can’t call those who have CNICs illegal immigrants. Having a CNIC means you are a legal citizen of Pakistan. Doesn’t matter at all how you got the card.Recommend

  • Hameed
    Oct 26, 2012 - 6:43PM

    @Jenai dau:
    For your information Karachi is part of Sindh and we won’t ‘leave’ it alone. We have every right to this city as you people do. Over 2.5 lac Sindhis live in karachi and we have a right to ask the government to promote Sindhi even in Karachi. Urdu is national language and Sindhi is our mother tongue and official language of Sindh so it should also be promoted along with Urdu.Recommend

  • Shahab
    Oct 28, 2012 - 11:58PM

    I must appreciate Express tribune to publish this news as it is a matter for concern not only for the for the people of Karachi but for the whole nation. according to this report there are over 3.35 million illegal immigrants living in Pakistan and to my surprise 75% living in Karachi, no wonder why the crime rate is increasing in karachi.But according to the report the sole responsible agency NARA has only 100 employees to its credit for registering illegal immigrants! this is crazy and secondly if the federal govt. is not fulfilling its duty they should hand over this subject to the local governments i mean the city govt.and i think the people who are opposing the SPLGO should read this bit of news. Karachi is already in a grip of so many illegal bussiness and certainly this is adding more to it. The drug mafia, weapon mafia and the land mafia has already messed up the city law and order and the illegal immigrants are only adding to karachiites woes. I strongly protest as a Karachite and ask the federal govt, to immediately give strict orders to the related ministry for action against the illegal immigrants or delegate powers to the city govt. for the purpose.


  • azeem
    Oct 29, 2012 - 2:06AM


    Our city is getting alien to us

    your City ? do you live in Karachi ? if you did you wouldve have seen the change and would not feel alien. No one can live outside time and changes. illegal immigration should stop, but you dont have right to protect one culture whilst rest of world moves you want to live in your bubble


  • Ansari
    Oct 29, 2012 - 3:28AM

    Along with Bengali Migrants, We Need to Do something to Afghan Migrants. There are millions of Illegal Migrants (Bangalis, Afghanis, Bumese etc ets) they are like burden on us, Specially Afghan Migrants, & Talibans are getting enter in the city spreading extremism. @Government should take resolving steps 4 this issue on immediate basis, whether it will be too late !!!!


  • Farman Ali
    Oct 29, 2012 - 5:58PM

    and Yes, Karachi has most illegal Afghan immigrants probably near half a million but the article doesn’t mention it. Any ways all these illegal immigrants should be sent to their native homes


  • Karachiite
    Oct 31, 2012 - 8:13PM

    Action against illegal immigrants will cause more damage to ANP who claim 1 million afghans as Pukhtun Brothers and add to its telly in Karachi. Further more the Supreme Court current statements against illegal land grabbing in Karachi from Sohrab Goth to Jamshoro is quite significant the Illegal katchi Abadis and goths on land purchased by people and now encroached should be vacated at all costs as these illegal abadis are the root cause of crimes in Karachi.
    And Historically Karachi was never part of Sindh have anyone seen any Sindhi Cultural Monument or Sindhi Land mark in Karachi except SIndh Maderssa?
    Any so called owner of Karachi from Interior Sindh can name one?


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