Human Migration

In times gone by, the earth was free for people to move wherever they wanted. The whole population of the world the was hardly a few million. With the advent of nation states, the free movement of people began to be restricted.
The New World of the Americas developed as a result of the influx of people from elsewhere. When pressures of population began to mount, foreign immigration came to be tightly controlled. With the population of the world now at seven billion, the human pressure on the limited land area of the earth has become intense.
The world is now divided around areas of progress and prosperity in contrast to overpopulated high-density burgeoning areas. Issues of migration are increasingly being linked to ethnicity, jobs, demography and multifarious other factors. In Pakistan, the migration of our people to foreign shores has been mostly viewed in a limited and myopic manner – primarily in terms of being a source of remittances. While such remittances are important for our economy, we need to realise that they come at a great sociological, psychological and human price.
The bulk of overseas migration is illegal and full of hazards. Another disadvantage is the shortage of skilled personnel in crucial fields in the country when talented and trained human resource leaves Pakistan. It has now become the foremost task of our Foreign Office and embassies abroad, especially in countries like Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal, to deal with hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants from Pakistan.
Being an ambassador in the early 1990s in a two officer embassy in Athens, Greece, I was faced with this arduous work because Greece was the main transit route for illegal human smuggling of Pakistanis transiting from Turkey with the aim of moving on westwards.
Greece then had an estimated 300,000 illegal Pakistanis. The bulk of them used to come to the embassy in Athens asking for new passports on the plea that they had lost their previous passports – a plea that was usually false. We were constrained by the necessity of establishing the credibility of thir claims through a cumbersome procedure of referral to authorities in local districts of Pakistan, from whom timely response was seldom forthcoming.
The victims of this nefarious racketeering gave harrowing tales of their ordeals during the course of their illegal movement from Turkey to Greece, often at grave danger to their lives. They had given up all they had in cash and property to the recruiting agents in Pakistan, besides incurring huge debts to finance their emigration. When in Greece, they were constantly playing a game of hide and seek from the police and from crime syndicates. Often they ended up in jail or became involved in organised crime and narcotic drugs. They were also subjected to racial gang violence.
At that particular time there was no widespread condemnation of human smuggling in Pakistan, nor was there any official determination and commitment to fight this menace. All efforts to apprise the authorities of the scale and repercussions of the problem remained fruitless. No one then seemed to bother about the gross human misery involved. This horrendous business of human smuggling rackets caused untold hardships to the unfortunate souls who got caught up in it. The situation became increasingly intolerable and also involved an effort to prevent the Mission being targeting by organised crime.
Firm and sustained action is now imperative on the part of the FIA and other authorities to curb the ruthless recruiting gangs which exploit innocent victims and lure them with false promises of moving them to lands of milk and honey.
Within Pakistan too, enormous difficulties have resulted from the large influx of illegal aliens, especially in the tribal areas, and also in Karachi. Arabs, Uzbeks and many other militant extremists pose a big threat to our peace and stability. If we are to maintain some semblance of control, we need to tackle firmly their comings and goings outside of normal governmental channels.
The huge skyscrapers, plazas, malls and highways in most Gulf countries have been constructed with the toil and sweat of our compatriots working in sizzling heat and difficult circumstances. They are usually badly exploited and paid a pittance compared to their efforts. In western countries they are often assigned to menial jobs, even if they are highly educated.
Human migration has become a burning issue in the world today. There is need for multilateral cooperation and sensible policies to deal with the multifarious problems that are resulting from it.