InternationalVOLUME 18 ISSUE # 32-33

A land of miseries and uncertainty

It is a very bitter reality that Pakistan has turned into a land of miseries and uncertainty, where people are living under utmost hopelessness and constant fear.

Political instability, economic uncertainty, climatic catastrophes, fissures in the social fabric, inconsistency and inequality in judicial, administrative, and educational elite-captured systems, religious extremism, corruption, unscrupulously callous leadership, racial and provincial prejudices, unemployment, hyperinflation, and soaring prices have created these miseries and uncertainty in the country. Many economists and political experts have already predicted that Pakistan’s default is inevitable if the IMF’s conditions are not met. According to Dr Farrukh Saleem, “the economic outlook appears grim, even alarmingly so. The consumption of diesel has plummeted by 50 per cent. There’s been a massive drop in auto sales. Furthermore, electricity production has experienced a staggering 23 per cent decrease. Large Scale Manufacturing (LSM) has slumped by 25 per cent. Consequently, unemployment rates in major industrial cities such as Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, and Sialkot, are likely skyrocketing. Adding to the woes, food inflation is rapidly approaching 50 per cent, exacerbating poverty rates and intensifying concerns regarding food insecurity, reaching unprecedented levels. In terms of our external obligations, there is a pressing need to fulfill a payment of $3.7 billion by the end of June. Although we currently possess foreign exchange reserves amounting to $4.2 billion, the challenges persist beyond June and extend into the next fiscal year, as we face a significant gross external financing requirement of $41.8 billion. On the external front, the only way out is a bigger package from the IMF.”

To avoid these difficult times and secure a bright future, most Pakistanis, including doctors, engineers, information technology experts, accountants, etc., are trying their level best to leave the country. According to official numbers published in an English language newspaper, around 225,000 Pakistanis left the country in 2021. It nearly tripled to 765,000 in 2022. The most tragic thing is that out of 765,000, 92,000 were highly educated professionals such as engineers, information technology experts, doctors, and accountants. About 200,000 people have already left in the first three months of 2023. These numbers do not include the thousands of people who go to other countries through agents using illegal channels. During their travels, many people die before reaching their destination, leaving their families grief-stricken and helpless in Pakistan.

On June 14, an overloaded boat that had, according to a European rescue support charity, about 750 people onboard sank off the coast of Greece. According to the original information provided by survivors of the shipwreck, at least 400 Pakistanis, 200 Egyptians, and 150 Syrians, including about two dozen Syrian women and young children, were travelling on the trawler. However, the precise number of Pakistanis on board the ship has not yet been confirmed by the authorities. On June 17, the Foreign Office said that 12 Pakistanis had been found alive. A day of mourning was also observed in the country. Shehbaz Sharif, the prime minister, appointed a four-person committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding the tragedy and ordered law enforcement agencies to arrest those responsible for human smuggling.

The FIA spokesperson said, “So far, first information reports have been lodged against more than 20 human smugglers and more than five traffickers have been arrested from Gujrat, Gujranwala and Lahore. The traffickers and their facilitators are international criminals.” Keeping in view the corrupt legal system, these assertions will again prove false because many immigration and FIA officers are allegedly involved in this lucrative illegal business. In fact, human trafficking is quickly evolving into one of the country’s most lucrative illegal operations in these testing times because the majority of people want to leave the country at every cost. According to news reports, the father of one of the missing men allegedly paid a local travel agent Rs2.2 million to take his son to Libya and then Europe. The father of another missing man allegedly paid Rs2.3 million to a travel agent belonging to Nowshera Virkan, who partnered with a government official.

It should also be noted that four months ago, the world mourned the deaths of around 62 people belonging to different countries, including 28 Pakistanis, when a boat carrying migrants crashed against rocks and sank off the southern Italian coast. A former national hockey player, Shahida Raza, was among the Pakistanis who lost their lives. She was leaving the country in search of a better life for her sick child. In another incident, seven Pakistanis lost their lives when their boat sank near the coast of Benghazi.

In spite of these recurring tragedies, the latest tragic incident occurred, which shows that the people will not be afraid of trials, tribulations, abuses and even death and would continue their efforts to leave the country for a better future.

Pakistan’s brain drain crisis, along with illegal immigration, is escalating, but our leadership is blind to this reality and busy plundering the country’s scarce resources and criticising each other’s parties for gaining political support, which is very unfortunate and criminal. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said that the incident should serve as a “stark reminder to the state that it has failed to stem a longstanding and grievous human rights violation”. It is the duty of the state to address the socio-economic issues of the people if it wants a lasting solution to this trafficking problem.

Furthermore, more opportunities must be provided to enable people from disadvantaged backgrounds to look for work abroad through safe and legal channels, as it is time to acknowledge that the global visa system discriminates against the poor and marginalised.

On the other hand, maritime law mandates Greek authorities to step in if a boat is thought to be in danger, even if the people on board expressly decline aid. Foreign media reports unfolded the Greek authorities’ criminal negligence in averting this tragedy. The UN has demanded an investigation into how Greece handled the situation. The Greek authorities have refuted assertions that the boat sank after being towed. Over 100,000 individuals, according to the UNHCR, entered Italy by sea in 2022 alone. This is despite the fact that, since 2014, over 50,000 individuals have lost their lives trying to reach safer shores. The UN should take some concrete steps to avert these incidents in the future.