Last month it was reported that 16 Pakistani migrants drowned at sea near the shores of Libya en route to Italy. Such tragedies are becoming all too common, highlighting the plight of countless Pakistanis whose lives have been marred by conflict, poverty and despair.
The number of Pakistanis making this perilous journey by sea is on the increase: last year, over 3,100 Pakistanis reached Italy by sea, making them the 13th largest nationality among migrants. This year, Pakistanis already account for the third most numerous nationality — about 240 embarked on this treacherous journey in January. The route from Libya to Italy is considered to be the most dangerous crossing in the world.
This serves as a damning indictment against Pakistan’s woefully inadequate governance structures and political system. Local and federal government have failed to respond to the needs of its citizens, many of whom live without access to the most basic of amenities such as clean drinking water, electricity, proper sanitation, health and educational facilities.
Escaping a life of unimaginable hardship, these economic migrants are left with no alternative but to leave their homeland, their family and friends. Even years after leaving, the love for one’s home remains unshakeable. It was an emotion that Pakistan’s famed dissident poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz understood all too well. Yearning for his homeland, he wrote during his days of exile, ‘Bury me, oh my country, under your pavements, where no man now dare walk with head held high’
Recognising the country’s inability to dismantle human smuggling syndicates, last year Pakistan was included in the ‘Global Action to Prevent and Address Trafficking in Persons and the Smuggling of Migrants’ project launched by the EU and UN.
It is up to the politicians to ensure that their citizens are no longer reduced to such an abject state making them easy prey for rapacious human smugglers. Just recently, Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar took suo moto notice after the discovery of 20 bullet riddled bodies in Balochistan. The victims were labourers who had been transported to the province by human traffickers with the object of crossing the Pak-Iran border illegally. Justice Nisar stated that it was the government’s responsibility to develop a policy to end human trafficking and lamented the lack of coordination between government departments. Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency has also been sharply criticised for its inability to crack down on trafficking organisations.
This represents a grim manifestation of the deplorable living conditions endured by so many, their anguish enabling them to be lured by exploitative smugglers who hold out the promise of a better future.
In spite of the endemic violence that engulfs the country, Pakistan is not internationally recognised as a conflict zone and so such people fleeing their homeland are regarded as ‘economic migrants’ — often viewed with suspicion and hostility by the countries they seek refuge in. The term ‘economic migrant’ euphemises the extreme deprivation such people find themselves in: a life berefts of dignity and basic wellbeing. Moreover, it suggests a choice: people in search of better economic prospects in other countries, threatening the job security of the residents of those countries. This perception overlooks the harrowing reality of the lives of economic migrants who feel compelled to put their faith and their life savings in the hands of modern day slave traders.
Escaping a life of unimaginable hardship, these economic migrants are left with no alternative but to leave their homeland, their family and friends. Even after years leaving, the love for one’s home remains unshakeable. It was an emotion that Pakistan’s famed dissident poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz understood all too well. Yearning for his homeland, he wrote during his days of exile, “Bury me, oh my country, under your pavements, where no man now dares walk with head held high;” The great poet even prophesised that times would become even harder, “Yes, the bitterness of the times will grow still greater; Yes, the tyrant people will go on practising tyranny;”
At present, Pakistan’s politicians seem inured to the suffering of the people they have been elected to serve. Until this changes, such horrific tragedies will continue unabated.
The writer is the founding editor of Blue Chip magazine. She tweets @MashaalGauhar
Published in Daily Times, March 7th 2018.