The youth of Pakistan are risking their lives, making desperate attempts to illegally migrate to Europe through harrowing and perilous paths known colloquially as “donkey routes.” Trapped in an economically crumbling nation, the desperation is driving them to seek a better life at any cost.
Last month, the tragic deaths of Ali Hasnain and Nadeem were a grim reminder of the risk these young men are willing to take. Both men departed Pakistan, driven by economic hardships, and became unwitting fellow travellers on the world’s deadliest migrant route. They died after boarding a boat in Libya and floundering in Mediterranean waters.
“It was like heaven had fallen when we first heard the news,” lamented Nadeem’s mother, Kausar Bibi, in their family’s modest home. “I cannot bear this pain.”
Pakistan’s economy is in freefall, caused by decades of mismanagement and political instability. Nadeem, who was making only 500 to 1,000 rupees ($1.80 to $3.60) a day, saw no other option but to leave for Italy via Dubai, Egypt, and Libya.
In Gujrat, Punjab province, there is a long history of migration. What began as legal migration and an escape from poverty has become a thriving industry for “agents” – shadowy figures who smuggle people through dangerous paths.
Nadeem’s brother Usman reveals that smugglers “took advantage” of the dire circumstances in Pakistan. An agent, speaking anonymously, defends his actions, saying, “They come to us with dreams, and we do our best to fulfil them, but there are inherent risks involved.”
According to a 2022 survey by the Mixed Migration Centre, nearly 90% of Pakistanis who recently arrived in Italy used a human smuggler. An official from Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency estimates 40,000 illegal trips are attempted every year.
Spain and Italy have introduced schemes to aid undocumented migrants, yet the underlying issues persist.
“Nobody wants to leave his country, but poverty, lawlessness, and hunger force people to migrate,” says Farooq Afgan, a local politician in Gujrat.
The lure of a “princely lifestyle” awaits successful migrants, enticing others to try their luck. Some find success, while others, like Faizan Saleem, suffer multiple deportations and loss of money.
“When I heard the news about the boat capsizing I felt sad,” Faizan said. “Their miseries forced them to follow that path.”
The desperate situation in Pakistan highlights a global challenge that extends beyond borders and laws. It’s a human struggle, filled with tragedy and hope, that reflects a broader, more complex dilemma. Efforts to address the root causes of this migration are urgent, as the lives of the country’s youth hang in the balance, and the sea remains, as ever, unforgiving.