Pakistani migrants

December 22, 2017


MIGRATION is part and parcel of globalisation. Yet, with the EU erecting barriers to the entry of migrant labour, economic migration has become a risky and dangerous business, and has led to human trafficking and illegal migration on an unprecedented scale. What is often ignored in this conversation is the human suffering — uncertain residential status, degrading living conditions, worsening health status and hazardous journeys from the point of departure to destination.

I saw some aspects of this during a recent assignment on migrant health in Greece, when I met a cross-section of migrants stranded there. Greece is home to migrants predominantly from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, spread out in different parts of the country. Most of them are living in unfavourable and degrading conditions in an already economically stressed country, particularly the migrants who fall out of the asylum support system and process. Although Pakistan migrants are hard to find among the new arrivals, I met a few living in squats run by left-wing anarchist groups. Each one had a harrowing story to tell.

One migrant, only 18 years old, made his way to Turkey after a six-months-long, dangerous journey through Iran. From Turkey, he made his way to Greece, where he remains stranded with little hope of his asylum application being accepted. Despite heavy odds, he seems determined to break through to either Germany or Spain. Supported by his brother in Germany who regularly sends him money, he aims to stick it out. His story is the trapped or stranded dimension of the migration spectrum.

Thousands of citizens abroad are trapped and deported.

Deportation is the other dimension of the migration spectrum. I met a bunch of deportees on an Islamabad-bound flight from Istanbul recently. Most of them were in tatters, with ages ranging from 20 to 50 years. They looked haggard and fearful of what awaited them at the airport. I learnt that most found their way into Turkey after an arduous land journey through Iran, like the migrant I met in Greece. Yet the new migrants are not so lucky in terms of physical safety. Some, I was told, perished on the way — either because of the hazardous journey or increasingly tough border policing at the Turkish border.

Along the Mediterranean route, the death rate has increased from 1.2 per 100 persons in 2016 to 2.1 per 100 in 2017. One report concludes that 22,500 migrants have died or disappeared on the way to Europe since 2014. My own experience of working with migrants confirms what various reports have indicated, that illegal migration and human trafficking from Pakistan is on an upward trajectory. Two recent news articles gave my observations some statistical reality.

One article, based on recent research by the International Organisation for Migration, reported that the number of migrants and refugees from Pakistan using the Eastern and Central Mediterranean routes has been steadily rising since 2016. The IOM profile shows that those travelling to Italy via the Central Mediterranean route are mostly from Punjab, followed by KP. Those using the Eastern Mediterranean route into Greece mirror the same profile. The migrants interviewed in 2017 were spread out across Bulgaria, Greece, Serbia, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia and Italy. The report also showed migrants spent an average of one year in transit. Those travelling on the Central Mediterranean route cited violence, persecution and economic reasons as the push factors for migration, while half of those taking the Eastern Mediterranean route into Greece cited economic reasons, followed by violence, persecution and conflict.

As opposed to the outflow, forcible dep­orta­tions are also on the rise, reflecting negatively on Pakis­tan’s immigration and policing department. The scale of deportation is frightening. Official figures report 544,105 Pakis­tanis were deported from other countries between 2012 and 2017. More than half were deported from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, the rest from Europe, the US, Africa, Turkey and Malaysia.

The escalating number of deportations has stepped up external pressure for official action as well. More than 18,000 deportees at the airport have provided leads to human traffickers. Of more than 1,000 individuals investigated on human smuggling charges, only 627 agents were found involved in trafficking. We have no information on what penalties/ punishment were imposed on them. More worryingly, another 290 agents are not traceable.

These are high figures, by any stretch of the imagination, and they require new policy and legislative responses. The scale of illegal migration and fatalities associated with it need an integrated approach that deals with push factors identified in the research, as well as robust immigration and policing policies.

The writer is a public health and development consultant.

Published in Dawn, December 22nd, 2017