Social and economic context of migration

More than 4 million Pakistani workers have registered for overseas employment in more than 50 countries in the last 40 years (UNDP 2010) and some seven million Pakistanis, about 4 per cent of the population, live outside the country. Sizeable diaspora communities reside in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Western Asia. Remittances play a key role in supporting economic growth.

With a population exceeding 170 million and growing at an annual rate of nearly 2 per cent, Pakistan is the world’s sixth most populous country and the second most urbanized nation in South Asia (World Bank 2010). This rapid demographic growth has not translated into a strong and robust economy. In fact, the recent global financial crisis, combined with internal political instability, declining exports and low levels of foreign direct investment (FDI), resulted in a modest annualized economic growth rate of 1.6 per cent in 2010 (World Bank 2010). Poverty remains a serious concern in the country, with the majority of the population still living on less than $2 a day.

A burgeoning population and slow economic growth contribute to growing unemployment in the country. In 2010, the unemployment rate stood at around 15 per cent, while inflation was 13 per cent from an annual rate of 7.7 per cent in 2007 (United States Central Intelligence Agency 2011). In addition, low wages, unequal employment opportunities between rural and urban areas, and an excessive reliance on the performance of the textile industry contribute to large-scale out-migration. Poor economic conditions were exacerbated by a large earthquake, which took place in October 2005, and more recently the disastrous floods in June 2010, which affected more than 20 million people, and caused damages estimated at between $8.7 billion and $10.9 billion. Economic difficulties help to explain why out-migration remains an attractive livelihood strategy among Pakistanis (UNHCR 2010).

The security situation has further deteriorated in Pakistan, particularly in the north-west region of the country. Limited economic opportunities, high unemployment, natural disasters, ongoing instability, and a volatile security situation are all factors that continue to trigger high levels of internal and cross-border migration.

At the same time, due to its geographic location, Pakistan is a natural destination country for refugee and mixed migration flows from neighbouring Afghanistan, a country that suffers from even higher poverty and unemployment and has been plagued by decades of conflict.

Human trafficking is an ongoing concern in the country. A legal framework for prosecution is in place, but the Government has yet to ratify key treaties to facilitate this.