Valuing migrants

Published November 14, 2023
The writer is a political economist with a PhD degree from the University of California, Berkeley.
The writer is a political economist with a PhD degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

I WAS in Afghanistan last week. I have worked in many rebel-held areas globally. But it felt eerie being in a state ruled by a group we aided and that shuns modernity. I felt guilty as my own callous state is evicting poor Afghans cruelly.

Long poor, the decades of war we too stoked, and now foreign economic and internal bans, have hurt Afghanistan more, with nature inflicting drought and quakes. Two-thirds of Afghans need aid, half of them urgently. Food, medicine and water are short. Women and many men face state abuse. Into this crisis, we are pushing innocent people, many of whom have lived in Pakistan for decades. Many were even born here. Images of misery and abuse abound.

Our logic is bad — legally, morally, economically and politically. We say we only evict those who are ‘illegal’. This is simply state spin to criminalise and dehumanise them. Refugees globally cross borders without visas. But host states still issue refugee papers.

Afghans coming on foot didn’t need visas. Illegality just means some refugees lack or are refused papers. The simple fix is to give them the needed papers. However, we strip them of all empathy, and pin terrorist acts on them.

Which ones, we aren’t told. I don’t recall Afghans being named right after a recent attack. Even if some were involved in such acts, is it justifiable to collectively punish millions, similar to how Israel treats the Palestinians? We may push Afghans into the enemy’s arms.

Some say the refugees are an economic burden. Global studies, however, show that even ‘illegal’ migrants boost economies as they have not just mouths to feed but also hands to work, skills to apply, and money to invest.

Since 1980, three million Afghans settled here. However, the increase in our own numbers far out-paced them. Millions of us went abroad. We rightly rue the harm from huge emigration yet see smaller inflows as harmful too. But migrants often fill the gap left behind by emigrants. The UN gives us millions in refugee aid, helping our suppliers and staff too.

We must not send migrants to a future full of risks.

Many Sindhis and Baloch fear that migrants — internal or foreign — may make them minorities at home, like the Palestinians and the native American population. Indigenous rights are critical but these two nationalities lag behind others in the army, bureaucracy and business.

Census data shows that the proportion of Sindh and Balochistan in our total population increased by five per cent and 2.5pc, respectively, from 1951 to 2023. Punjab’s fell by 7pc. But Sindh’s increase is mainly on account of inflows to Karachi, which went up from 3pc to 8pc nationally and 18pc to 36pc in Sindh. So, the provincial political hold matters.

Sindhis have seen the most change. Their ratio in the Sindh Assembly fell roughly from 90pc in 1947 to 80pc in 1970 and 68pc in 2002 but has been stable since. Controversial state-aided inflows and land awards brought down but did not end this supermajority, given the high rural fertility rates. Inflows allowed some economic gains too.

The big industrial classes are dominated by some ethnicities due to their state hold, initially of Mohajir and then Punjab elites. Without the inflows into Sindh, most of its industry may have been in Punjab. But the gains ignored poor Sindhis due to the selfish policies of the national and local elites.

The Baloch won the majority of seats in the last and previous polls in their province. But Baloch militants sadly kill poor migrants though so many Baloch have lived safely in other regions for long.

Most of the very poor districts are the Baloch ones. However, it is the elites who are responsible for Baloch misery, not migrant workers. Victims must­­n’t fight each other to help the elites but jointly fight against them. Punjabis won about 75pc of the seats in Punjab and Pakhtuns 87pc in KP (up after the Fata union) in 2018.

All majority groups have stable supermajorities and won’t see the fate of the native population of the US, etc. Poor migrants don’t change things like conquerors or state-aided inflows. KP has 52pc of 1.3m legal Afghans, Balochistan 24pc, Punjab 14pc and Sindh 5pc, according to a new UN survey. The numbers regarding ‘illegal’ ones are mere guesses.

Even if long-term Afghan and other migrants got citizenship, it will just cut the supermajorities by 2pc to 3pc (Pakhtuns will gain a bit). A high rural fertility rate may soon erase even this cut. Actually, some minority ethnic communities will lose a bit more than majority groups. Even this would not occur if they get only working rights and fake CNICs are nixed.

We must not send migrants to a future full of risks on account of our own unreal and distant fears. Migrant fears must not conservatively create ethnic silos. Instead, there should be win-win ideas for all victims.

The writer is a political economist with a PhD degree from the University of California, Berkeley.

murtazaniaz@yahoo.com

X: @NiazMurtaza2

Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2023

Opinion

Editorial

First steps
Updated 29 May, 2024

First steps

One hopes that this small change will pave the way for bigger things.
Rafah inferno
29 May, 2024

Rafah inferno

THE level of barbarity witnessed in Sunday’s Israeli air strike targeting a refugee camp in Rafah is shocking even...
On a whim
29 May, 2024

On a whim

THE sudden declaration of May 28 as a public holiday to observe Youm-i-Takbeer — the anniversary of Pakistan’s...
Afghan puzzle
Updated 28 May, 2024

Afghan puzzle

Unless these elements are neutralised, it will not be possible to have the upper hand over terrorist groups.
Attacking minorities
28 May, 2024

Attacking minorities

Mobs turn into executioners due to the authorities’ helplessness before these elements.
Persistent scourge
Updated 29 May, 2024

Persistent scourge

THE challenge of polio in Pakistan has reached a new nadir, drawing grave concerns from the Technical Advisory Group...