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Editorial: The Migration Paradox

A migrant boat capsizing off the coast of Italy raises questions about why Pakistanis are risking life-and-limb to leave their homeland

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Pakistani athlete Shahida Raza, who drowned when a migrant boat capsized off Italy’s southern coast

At least 59 people, including Pakistanis, Afghans and Iranians, drowned after a migrant boat sank in rough seas off the Italian coast of Calabria earlier this week. Overloaded with approximately 150 people, the heart-breaking tragedy saw women and children among its victims, most of whom had left their homes in hopes of finding better prospects abroad. According to Pakistan’s Foreign Office, four Pakistanis were still missing, while 16 survived the crash. Among the Pakistani victims was 29-year-old Shahida Raza, who had represented the country in football, hockey and martial arts in several international championships, and had left her homeland to secure a better life for her family.

The reasons for migrations are multifarious, ranging from slow economic development to fragile security; weak governance to natural disasters; and perennial political instability. These factors hamper opportunities for higher education and skilled employment, encouraging exoduses. Pakistan already has a vibrant expat community, and Pakistanis with family members abroad often desire to join them. Unfortunately, many of them choose to opt for illegal migration, the reasons for which Pakistan must examine to avoid tragedies like the boat capsizing.

Critics in the West have long argued that laws targeting illegal migration and attempts to close migration routes do nothing to address the main causes of displacement. Facilitating migration through less stringent laws is one suggestion, but in the absence of global consensus, this is a hard sell. Some commentators even argue that the problem has been created by the West and it must take the lead in solving it.

Crisis-stricken Pakistan, it must be stressed, lacks the capacity to tackle the challenge of illegal migration. Nonetheless, for the most part, the country’s labor migration policy aims to assist and protect Pakistani nationals seeking employment abroad. But without an equivalent policy in destination countries, it can only do so much.

Global economic pressures have forced an ever-larger number of migrants to try and find shelter in the West. Turkiye, in recent years, had become a popular route for human smugglers, who use it to bring migrants into Europe by road and ships. According to the U.N.’s refugee agency, migrants traveling through Turkiye comprised around 15 percent of the arrivals to Italy by sea, with nearly half of them from Afghanistan. What Pakistan must examine is why its citizens are joining the flight of Afghans, who have genuinely suffered decades of conflict and suffer an almost total lack of writ of the state. Should Pakistan, a nuclear power, face the same issues as Afghanistan where the state hardly exists?

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