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Migration and Pakistan

By Staff Writer

Migration has been a constant in the history of Pakistan. From its inception, its people have been moving in migratory waves. This migration of people started with the moving of millions of people from India into Pakistan when the two nations gained their independence from British colonial rule. These Muslims moved to Pakistan in hopes of a better life, not just economically but socially and religiously as well.

As the population in Pakistan swelled with the movement of people from south to north, the masses also started an internal migration from the rural areas to the urban. As with the first migrants, these people also came with the hope of a better life.

Between 1951 and 1981, the urban population quadrupled. The annual urban growth rate during the 1950s and 1960s was more than 5 percent. This figure dropped slightly in the 1970s to 4.4 percent. Between 1980 and early 1994, it averaged about 4.6 percent. By early 1994, about 32 percent of all Pakistanis lived in urban areas, with 13 percent of the total population living in three cities of over 1 million inhabitants each--Lahore, Faisalabad, and Karachi.

The key reason for the migration of rural dwellers to urban centres has been the limited opportunity for economic advancement and mobility in rural areas. Much of this stagnation has been caused by the firmly entrenched feudal practices of landlords in the countryside. They tend to wield an inordinate amount of economic and political control over their domains.

The urban migrant is almost invariably male. Although he has moved to the city, in practice he retains his ties with his village, and his rights there are acknowledged long after his departure. At first, the migration is frequently seen as a temporary expedient, a way to purchase land or pay off a debt. Typically, the migrant sends part of his earnings to the family he left behind and returns to the village to work at peak agricultural seasons. Even married migrants usually leave their families in the village when they first migrate. The decision to bring wife and children to the city is thus a milestone in the migration process.

The next wave of migration has then been the move from urban centres in Pakistan to urban centres overseas, especially the Middle East. The Middle East, with its vast oil wealth, has provided many opportunities for overseas labourers to work and earn a living building and maintaining infrastructure in various Arab states, especially in the Persian Gulf.

The migration to the Gulf began in the 1970s. Pakistan had a severe balance of payments deficit and so as a way of dealing with this deficit, the government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto encouraged both skilled and unskilled men to work in the Persian Gulf countries. The government set up a program under the Ministry of Labour, Manpower, and Overseas Pakistanis to regulate this migration. With the construction boom in the Gulf states at that time, labour jobs were plentiful and Pakistani men were more than willing to go.

By the mid-1980s, when this temporary migration was at its height, there were an estimated 2 million Pakistanis in the Persian Gulf states making up the largest group of foreign workers. These men were remitting more than US$3 billion every year to Pakistan. At its peak, this money accounted for almost half of Pakistan's foreign-exchange earnings. By 1990, new employment opportunities were decreasing, and the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War forced many workers to return quickly to Pakistan. Workers have only slowly returned to the Gulf since the war ended.

The majority of migrant workers are working-class men who travel alone leaving their wives and children behind. These men are willing to sacrifice years with their families for what they see as their only chance to escape poverty in a society with limited upward mobility. Families generally use the overseas earnings for consumer goods rather than investing in industry. The wage earner typically returns after five to ten years to live at home.

Although this migration has had little effect on Pakistan demographically, it has affected its social fabric. While a man is away from his family, his wife often assumes responsibility for many day-to-day business transactions that are considered the province of men. For the women involved, therefore, there has been a significant change in social role. Psychologists point out that many migrant workers in the Middle East are profoundly affected. They tend to feel a sense of social isolation, culture shock, and are depressed by the harsh working conditions in these countries. They also suffer from a sense of disorientation resulting from the sudden acquisition of relative wealth and from the guilt associated with leaving their families.

Date/Time Last Modified: 6/18/2002 8:06:28 AM

Readers' Comment

miranda : 11/8/2005 2:01:35 PM
thanks that the kind of info i need for my book report

haseeb ch: 2/13/2006 12:50:07 PM
Thanks a lot! i really needed that information for my assignment. Thanks again.

sehrish: 11/7/2006 12:16:15 PM
good and useful article 4 students and provides all factors as well as impacts of migration

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