By Refael Kubersky
In December of 2017, the Pakistani Federal Investigation Agency reported that over the past four years, approximately 80,000 illegal Pakistani migrants have been deported from Iran en route to Europe, about another 10,000 have been deported from Turkey, and roughly 20,000 have been exiled from the EU. Additionally the US state department, in a 2017 report, placed Pakistan on the second highest tier list of human trafficking.
But while many Pakistani migrants have taken illegal measures to seek refuge in Europe, the international community has failed these immigrants, as it has denied them their basic rights as human beings to asylum and an adequate standard of life.
On April sixth, I attended a screening of the Pakistani film, “Zinda Bhaag,” in Weiser Hall at the University of Michigan. The film, directed by Farjad Nabi, depicts the struggle of three Pakistani men in Lahore as they seek to immigrate to Europe. The film highlights the overwhelming obstacles Pakistani men face trying to migrate legally to Europe, and the extreme dangers they will put themselves in to migrate illegally in search of a better future.
It is no secret as to why so many Pakistanis are looking West to improve their situation. Pakistan is currently plagued with political violence. In 2017, the Global Peace Index report from the Institute for Economics and Peace ranked Pakistan as the 12th most dangerous country on Earth. There are frequent violent clashes between competing political parties, and Islamic terrorist groups maintain strong influence, carrying out attacks almost daily. Human Rights Watch notes that the Pakistani government continues to severely oppress freedom of expression, state and military officials have abducted and sometimes murdered those who have advocated for greater cultural and political freedoms.
Pakistanis are also met with uncompromising economic challenges in Pakistan. While poverty levels in Pakistan have dramatically decreased over the past couple decades, Pakistan’s Ministry of Planning conducted a report in 2016 that indicated that approximately forty percent of Pakistanis live in multidimensional poverty. The report included factors such as income and wealth, health, education and standard of living . Pakistan is also ranked 145th in GDP per capita in a report by the International Monetary Fund.
Given the harsh political and economic situations in Pakistan, more Pakistanis should have the right to legally immigrate to greener pastures in the West. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights grants all people the right to asylum when facing persecution in their home country, and also states, “ Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family .” Many Pakistanis are being denied this adequate standard of living, and should have the right to seek prosperity abroad.
However, the EU has made it especially difficult for Pakistanis to legally immigrate to Europe. Obtaining EU work visas and other documents is an uncommonly lengthy and complicated process, and many Pakistanis are rejected outright from ever obtaining documentation in the first place. European countries have also been less inclined to accept any immigrants from Pakistan following a massive inflow of Syrian refugees from the ongoing Syrian civil war.
Ironically, restricting legal immigration has only encouraged potential migrants to find illegal ways into the EU, as they are willing to go to extreme measures to escape the dim situation in Pakistan. Human trafficking is rampant, and thousands are trafficked each year from Pakistan, hoping to find solace in the West. When these illegal immigrants are caught, they are more often than not returned to their country of origin, as indicated by the thousands that were deported this past year.
There are two potential solutions that can help this dire situation. The first is to simplify the process for Pakistanis to immigrate to Western countries. While European countries have already opened their borders to floods of refugees from Syria, perhaps there can be an international effort to find homes for those fleeing Pakistan. If legal immigration is made easier, then human trafficking from Pakistan should dramatically decrease. The international community must encourage European countries, the U.S., and Canada to all step up and help cultivate a plan that finds homes for properly vetted Pakistanis.
Additionally, while Europe’s concerns of population control is valid, they should pair up with the international community to improve the situation in Pakistan. By partnering with the U.N. and NGOs within Pakistan the international community can hold Pakistan’s government more responsible for its oppression, help crack down on terror, and focus on economic development projects. These initiatives will improve the quality of life in Pakistan and minimize the number of people seeking immigration as the only path to a better life.
Refael Kubertsky is an undergraduate studying at the University of Michigan.
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