Illegal Pakistanis in Greece

Most Pakistani immigrants I talked to were honest and forthright. They all admitted that they had entered Greece illegally and are struggling hard. The story of young Waqas Ahmed, who hails from a small village of Gujrat, is typical. He had paid Rs 700,000 to the agent in Gujrat to get to Unaan

Socrates used to talk to young men in the narrow lanes of ancient Athens. He did not preach but raised questions, which led the interlocutors to think about the virtues of Sparta and the shortcomings of their rulers. He had to give his life to what he thought was the truth.

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Today in the same lanes, some two-and-a-half-millenniums down the history lane, young men from Gujrat are seen hiding at the sight of Athens’ police. They fear arrest and deportation. These young men have risked their lives to come to the dreamland of prosperity and security. There is no Socrates back home to raise questions in their minds that may dissuade our young men from taking this dangerous route.

My interest in the young Pakistani economic immigrants to Greece started right from the moment I overheard two Punjabi gentlemen in the overcrowded passenger lounge of Abu Dhabi. A hefty man in his early 40s was telling his young friend, “I went to Unaan (Greece) illegally 20 years ago by ship. May God bless Bhatti sahib who helped many people from my village to go to Europe!”

Most Pakistani immigrants I talked to were honest and forthright. They all admitted that they had entered Greece illegally and are struggling hard. The story of young Waqas Ahmed, who hails from a small village of Gujrat, is typical. He is now vending do number ka Chinese maal at the Flea Market in the Plaka area of Athens. He says: “I make around 300 euros a month by selling these cheap Chinese electronic things. Those who are lucky to get a job make 600-800 euros per month and have been able to send money back home to pay back their debts.” Waqas had paid Rs 700,000 to the agent in Gujrat to get to Unaan. To raise the money, his family sold some land and his brother had to borrow from friends and relatives. “God bless the agent, he took five of us from our village to the Iran border, where 20 other people joined us. We were then handed over to the Iranian agent, who made us walk and ride dunkeys (donkeys) through the mountainous terrain and passed us on to the Turkish agent. Again we walked in the night through the mountains and rested in the morning. Eventually, after travelling for two months over the mountains, we were delivered to the Greek agent, who took money and left us to fend for ourselves.” “But sir,” he added, “once you are here, your own people take care of you.”

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Waqas agreed with me that with the money he gave to the agents (human traffickers), he could have started his own business. “I was crazy about going abroad,” he confessed, “all the young men who were with me have either followed this course or are planning to do so.” Another immigrant says that in many villages of Gujrat and Sialkot each household has at least one young man in Europe and all have come through illegal means. Once in Athens, I found out that there are about one million immigrants in Greece and half of them are from Albania, Romania and Poland. A recent survey says that 45 percent Greeks are against immigrants. This resentment is increasing because of the serious economic crisis in the country. But the good news is that Pakistani immigrants are considered to be “good people”. Reason: the Greeks hate the pushy Albanians who run the Mafia. They do not resent Pakistanis and Indians because they do the hard factory (or other) jobs not liked by the Greeks.

Though on a holiday, I could not resist the thought of finding out more about these economic immigrants. At the understaffed Embassy of Pakistan in Athens, I saw a large number of young Pakistanis, mostly from Gujrat and Sialkot villages. They all waited in a long queue patiently. All of them had the same story that we came to Greece illegally and are now trying to get our passport and National Identity Card for Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP). One young lad complained that the embassy sends the papers for verification, which takes a long time. But the majority said that they get their papers within three months. Inside, the burly Head of Chancery Faisal Kakar was drowned in applications and registers. According to him, there are around 45,000 illegal Pakistanis in Greece. Unofficial figures are twice that number. One embassy employee complained that when the total number of Pakistanis in Greece was not more than a few hundred, we had a sanctioned staff strength of three and now, despite the fact that it is over 45,000, the number of staff has not been increased. Why blame Waqas who comes from the large family of a small farmer and is hardly a matriculate from a low quality government school?

A good majority of low-income immigrants had taken the illegal route. Gujrat, Gujranwala and Sialkot are notorious for this among the Western diplomats in Islamabad. It is no wonder that we are now getting close to $ 8 billion in foreign remittances, something that is proudly announced by every government. Even our beggars migrate illegally to Saudi Arabia in search of generous alms, the courtesy of some Umra agents.

The Richie Riches of Pakistan have mostly bought a second passport. Most of them are not honest enough like their poor Gujrati cousins to admit that they have a second passport. Those who do, rationalise it: “One has to have a fall-back arrangement.” This speaks volumes about their faith in the future of Pakistan. At the risk of being labelled unpatriotic by over-zealous nationalists, I have to concede that no political and security analyst at present can take on a bet that our security situation is going improve in the near future. There are many who invested first in Dubai and are now doing so in Malaysia just to get the residential permit, which clearly prohibits such people from undertaking any work in these countries. Contrary to the reverse brain drain trend in India, our qualified younger lot has either migrated or is trying to do so. Their argument is that the country’s law and order situation is not conducive to bringing up their children. Middle class boys talk against migration only till they get the opportunity to jump ship.

Economic migration is understandable as, according to a large international survey conducted by Gallup, almost 700 million people said that they would like to move to another country. The interesting thing was that a majority of respondents from the developed countries also expressed an urge to migrate. The tragedy is that our disadvantaged are economic migrants and upper-middle class are security migrants. Where does it leave my country that is now faced with both the brain and brawn drain?

By Babar Ayaz