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Our migrant workers

  • Why are so many Pakistanis in jails abroad?

The highlight of the launch of a report by the Justice Project of Pakistan, Through the Cracks: The Exploitation of Pakistani Migrant Workers in the Gulf Recruitment Regime, was the plight of Pakistani migrant workers imprisoned in Saudi Arabia, 3309 of them, because Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman had promised to release 2000 of them during his recent visit here, the report also brought out the fact that there 11,000 Pakistanis in jails abroad. Speakers at the seminar, including PPP ex-Senator Farhatullah Babar and Senator Sassui Palejo, were right in noting that only 200 had been released so far, and PTI MNA Andleeb Abbas was driven to explain that the delay was due to logistical issues.

True, the release of 2000 prisoners would significantly reduce the number of Pakistanis jailed abroad, but not only does it leave 9000 still in jail abroad, it leaves unanswered the question of why Pakistanis end up in jail abroad, even though they do not have a reputation for either criminality or beggary. One reason, as was pointed out obliquely by Mr Babar in his tweet on the report is the role of some as drug mules. Though there is a perception that Pakistan is a hotbed of terrorism, it is not seen as an exporters of terrorists. However, before it developed its unfortunate reputation as a centre of terrorism, it had gained renown as a centre of the narcotics business. Those drugs had to be carried to the markets. Apart from drug transporters, a large number of young men seek employment abroad. They also end up in jails abroad when the immigration agencies there capture illegal immigrants, either at their borders or in their countries.

The basic solution to these problems is to provide job opportunities at home, so that there is no need to smuggle labour or drugs. The drug problem is better solved by a reduction in demand, which is a more effective means of stopping production, but until that is done, the law enforcing agencies, and the intelligence agencies, should divert some of the effort and resources to combatting this menace from persecuting the opposition. These agencies should also see their resources used against the human traffickers who trade on people’s misery and greed.