A heartbreaking news story came out on Sunday, where at least 45 migrants were killed when their overcrowded boat capsized off the coast of Italy’s southern Calabria region; the boat carried more than 100 people. According to media reports, among the migrants were Pakistanis. This not-so-rare incident highlights the plight of migrant workers who leave their home countries in search of a better future elsewhere, while also highlighting the issues associated with such migration: a thriving human smuggling network, European racism, and the dangers inherent in crossing the seas for those from our parts of the world.
According to Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment data, 832,339 Pakistanis left the country for work in 2022, the highest number since 839,353 in 2016. 59,977 is went overseas for work in January of this year. This data only includes official work visas, but the unfortunate reality is that many people leave Pakistan illegally or seek asylum in countries where visas are valid. Some do it for religious or other reasons, while others do it for financial security.
Pakistan’s political, economic, and social situations are so dire that many young people want to leave the country and settle elsewhere. According to a Gallup and Gilani Pakistan survey, the majority of Pakistanis would prefer to stay in Pakistan even if given the option. However, one in every three young Pakistanis wishes to leave the country.
Those with degrees may find better opportunities to work abroad with salaries that exceed those offered locally. Apart from the financial benefits, living abroad in a country where the law and order situation is better, children’s education is better, discipline is followed, and there are generally better facilities makes for a better living environment.
However, not everything is easy or simple for migrant workers. According to reports, migrant Pakistanis, particularly in the Middle East, have been subjected to discriminatory and inhumane working conditions over the years. Despite this, we see that Pakistanis are willing to opt out of living in their own country; due to the current economic crisis, unemployment in Pakistan has increased, but even those with jobs are struggling to make ends meet because their income has not increased proportionally with the inflation rate.
Governments are responsible for managing the economy, providing better education and healthcare, and ensuring labour laws are followed. If the economy does well, there will be more job opportunities, and Pakistanis will not feel the need to migrate to greener pastures, whose path is fraught with danger, racism, and immense hardship. The challenge for Pakistan is to demonstrate to would-be migrants that there is hope in their own country. When the state discriminates, fails to care for hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people, and is unable to provide jobs for all, there will always be those willing to risk death in search of a better life.