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.