What Europe and to a lesser but no less divisive extent America could never have anticipated is the immigrant crisis that now threatens it. Threatens to the extent that there are rational arguments that the crisis could trigger the breakup of the European Union (EU), and has already triggered the election of right-wing governments with anti-immigration agendas in places like Hungary. Others will follow. The consequences of the Arab Spring, the wars of the Maghrib and the Levant and sub-Saharan Africa has spawned a wave of migration unlike anything seen since WW2. This had not been planned for or anticipated and the varying national responses have widened existing fault lines and rekindled old animosities. The Mediterranean Sea has become a graveyard for untold thousands; many more thousands languish in limbo — including some Pakistanis who have fled persecution in their homeland — in squalid camps on Lesbos and Sicily. None of this was in the script and it was not supposed to happen.
European Union leaders have been forced to act and have cobbled together a migration deal in Brussels that looks in trouble before the ink is dry. It is proposed that secure centres be set up for the processing of asylum claims from those rescued at sea. These ‘controlled centres’ will be set up by individual countries on a purely voluntary basis but thus far there is no country willing to put itself forward to be first to establish what everybody is avoiding calling concentration camps.
Why should Pakistan be interested or concerned with any of this? Because it is home — still — to probably the largest undocumented body of refugees in the world, the Afghans, some of whom have been here for two generations and know no other home. The templates being devised in Europe for the management of immigrants and refugees are going to be closely watched by other vulnerable countries, Pakistan included. It is not impossible to conceive of another wave fleeing Afghanistan in the event of civil war reigniting there. What Europe is grappling with today may be Pakistan’s problem — again — tomorrow. And are we any better prepared than were the Europeans? No.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2018.