Social Protection Resource Centre

Historical and Contemporary Perspectives of Irregular Migration: Risks and Vulnerabilities of Pakistani Migrants

Author: Misbah Rashid (Research Associate)

The concept of irregular migration emerged after the First World War with the postwar process of redefining borders. The process involved the resurrection of statutory provisions for the deportation of irregular migrants residing in US. Years later, the post 2nd World War, many countries in Europe began to handle immigrants such as France, Germany and Netherlands, where regularization process was quiet trouble free. However, the situation changed in early eighties, when industrialized nations started to renounce their immigration policies and all OECD countries impose regularizations in eighties and nineties (Longo, 2013).  

Like in other parts of the world, irregular migration from Pakistan to Europe is not new, Pakistan, a former British colony, filled the gap of labor shortage in Britain in the post Second World War with 32,000 resident of Britain. After, the first stream of mobility to Britain, the Second stream included the emigration of qualifies workforce to the other parts of world; Canada, US, and Middle East during 60s and 70s. The third stream involved the migration towards Gulf States after the oil crisis of 1973. This stream comprised of semiskilled workforce. The fourth stream includes the recent movement to the Canada, USA and Europe. However, under the shadow economy, illegal migration to Europe and Middle East is more prevalent. With the strengthening of the immigration policies in Western World, immigrants prefer to travel all the way to Europe through sea routes and Land transit routes[1].

The most common routes to travel to Europe are; Mediterranean (Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria), Western Balkan (Serbia, Macedonia, Croatia, Hungary, Slovenia and Austria so on), and Eastern Balkan (Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Austria), and through Middle East and North Africa to Spain and Italy[2]. The journey of irregular migration involves the micro factors (migrant profile) and meso factors (boarder strictness). However, boarder

opening and closing along the Balkan routes often results in displacing the migrants (UNMA, 2019).

Between1971-2020, Pakistan’s labor outflow is 11.1 million, in parallel; the irregular labor migration has increased over the years, while the data on irregular migration is challenging due to the clandestine nature of the phenomena. Pakistan ranked among top 5 countries for origin of irregular migrants, heading towards Europe (Qaisrani et al. 2021).

[1] file:///C:/Users/student/Downloads/ANEXO_MIGRACIONES+DE+PAKISTAN_ANG.pdf


Source: Pakistan Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Employment

During the last few years, around 80,000 people smuggled from Pakistan, consequently, adopting perilous routes for travelling. In a hope to secure employment and better living hood, and ends up trapped in life threatening illegal activities. Since, 2016, the ratio of migrants increased, majority hailing from KPK and Punjab. The reasons for leaving Pakistan include; personal prosecution, war and conflict and economic concerns (Ahmed, 2017).

These migrants are often at a risk of abuse and exploitation; experiencing suffocation in containers, drown at sea, or smuggled by criminals for profit seeking purposes. Accurate figures are difficult to assess, however, it is estimated that these criminals generate $6.75 Billion a year along the routes of North, East, West Africa to Europe[1].

In the last few years, Italy has become the suitable destination for irregular migrants, mainly due to the trouble free permit policies, legal documents as well as high labor demand and economic opportunities. Moreover, due to the high wage rate in developed countries, and high unemployment in home country, and family reunification people chose developed countries (Wahab et al, 2021).

The phenomenon of irregular migration has a long history, which can be traced back to the post-World War I era. Pakistan, as a former British colony, has been a significant source of labor for various countries since the 1950s. However, with the tightening of immigration policies in the Western world, irregular migration has become more prevalent. The journey of irregular migration is impacted by both micro and meso factors, including the migrant profile and border strictness. The opening and closing of borders along the Balkan routes have resulted in displacing migrants, highlighting the need for a coordinated approach to address irregular migration.



  1. Hahn-Schaur, K. (2021). Awareness raising and information campaigns on the risks of irregular migration in Pakistan.
  2. Labor Migration Report, 2020
  3. Qaisrani, A., Hahn-Schaur, K., & Maegan, H. (2021). Irregular migration dynamics from Pakistan and the role of information campaigns.
  4. South Asia Migration Report (2017)
  5. Wahab, A., & Khan, M. J. (2021). CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES OF ILLEGAL EMIGRATION: A CASE STUDY OF DISTRICT SWAT, PAKISTAN. Pakistan Journal of Social Research3(01), 21-32.
  6. Yousef, K. (2013). The vicious circle of irregular migration from Pakistan to Greece and back to Pakistan. IRMA research project, background report on Pakistan, ELIAMEP, Athens (Available in English and Greek from: http://irma. eliamep. gr/publications/).