Refugee migration, settlement and assimilation | By Rashid A Mughal

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Refugee migration, settlement and assimilation

PAKISTAN has long been a country of migrants since ages. In fact the earliest inhabitants in this area were also migrants from mountains, deserts and barren area who migrated to this area because of the favourable climate and fertile land-mass and easy access to the sea which was the best transportation mean.

All these factors combined to make this area a perfect place to migrate and settle. Hence this area thrived and attracted people from other difficult areas to come to Indus Valley and settle.

Thus started the migration process which continues till today. But migration has its pluses and minuses.

If it is controlled, regulated and systematic (like western countries), the parameters regarding level and quality of the migrants( educated or uneducated, skilled or unskilled, people of good character etc) can be set.

Unfortunately, after the Afghan war which began in 1978-79, the influx of large number of people resulted in migration of millions of Afghan refugees-completely uncontrolled and unregulated.

According to a rough estimate, there are over three million Afghan refugees and most of them have settled for good and acquired Pakistan nationality.

Involving ourselves in Afghan war and letting three million Afghans to enter Pakistan was a decision for which we are paying the price today in the shape of Kalashnikov culture and drug culture.

Breakdown of law and order and wide-spread use of drugs and its easy availability has destroyed our young generation.

The damage that influx has caused in terms of drain on our resources has multiplied manifold.

They have come to stay here for good in view of the abundant opportunities they get and enjoy.

To think that they will ever leave Pakistan, is only a wishful thinking. Migration, particularly illegal, un-checked, un-systematic and un-regulated, has always been a controversial, debatable and a thorny issue throughout the world.

It has often resulted in ethnic violence, sometimes bloody, between migrants and hosts and in cases kept the migrants on tenterhooks for fear of backlash.

In some cases, the migrants had to face hostile environment for years and years. But at the same time there are countries where migrants have not only received warm welcome but have experienced most peaceful and friendly environment, with very few, rather negligible, incidents of confrontation, accost and scorn.

Assimilation here plays a very important role. As long as the migrants respect the culture and way of living of the hosts, the problems are minimized but in the opposite case, problems crop up and both communities live in a constant fear of uneasiness and instability.

History is replete with such incidents where migrants accepted the norms of life of the host country and assimilated in their society.

People from Asia and Africa, who migrated to West in early 50s and 60s not only felt happy and contended but rose to high levels in politics, business and social set-up.

In the UK’s list of top ten richest persons, seven are migrants from Asia and other parts of the world.

Migrants are more enterprising and hardworking and thus climb the ladder of economic prosperity more quickly than their hosts.

When it comes to education, the sons and daughters of migrants outshine their local class fellows and secure top positions in their academic career and subsequently in job market too.

According to a research carried out by National Bureau of Economic Research, USA, immigration has emerged as a sharply divisive issue in both the United States and the European Union.

Skepticism about whether new arrivals can assimilate into American society was a key concern in the 2016 presidential election and remains an ongoing theme in the public debate on immigration policy.

This controversy is not new.

American voters have expressed repeated waves of hostility toward immigrants and today’s concerns echo alarms sounded often in the past.

Consider the following statement: Immigration “is bringing to the country people whom it is very difficult to assimilate and who do not promise well for the standard of civilization in the United States.”

The speaker was not Donald Trump on the campaign trail but Massachusetts Sen. Henry Cabot Lodge in 1891.

Congress eventually passed strict immigration quotas in the early 1920s, putting an end to the first Age of Mass Migration.

One of the central issues in the political debate over immigration in any country, is cultural assimilation: Are immigrants able to successfully integrate into local society by adopting the economic, social and cultural norms of native-born hosts?

Or are they likely to remain as aliens even long after they settle? Many commentators express opinions on the subject, but relatively little empirical evidence is available on how fully and quickly immigrants assimilate into local culture.

Measuring cultural assimilation is a challenge because data on many cultural practices – things like food, dress and accent – are not systematically collected.

But information on one aspect of culture, the names that parents choose for their children, has been recorded in both the past and the present, offering a revealing window into the cultural assimilation process.

Studies of immigrant assimilation in economics have mainly focused on labour market outcomes – in particular, whether immigrants’ occupations and earnings converge to those of natives with time spent in the destination.

Existing work on inter-marriage in this period is hard to interpret because early Censuses do not allow researchers to screen out marriages that occurred in the home country.

European immigrants converged with natives in various social behaviours, including completed family size, political participation and criminality, but this transition often took more than one generation.

A related contemporary literature finds that immigrants draw closer to natives in their political preferences and gender norms, but that some gap remains even in the second generation.

The findings suggest that immigrants’ identification with local culture grows stronger with time spent in the country.

Some immigrants may have arrived with a strong desire to assimilate, but may have little knowledge of host country customs.

Other immigrants may not have cared about integrating into local society at first, but eventually felt the urge to blend in.

Perhaps for both reasons, immigrants appear to navigate the dominant culture with greater ease as time goes by.

It will be a mistake to determine immigration policy based on the belief that immigrants will remain foreigners, preserving their old ways of life and keeping themselves at arm’s length from the dominant culture.

The evidence suggests that overtime immigrant populations come to resemble natives and that new generations form distinct identities as their host country.

—The writer is Former Civil Servant & Consultant: ILO and IOM. The writer also contributes to Migration Policy Institute, Washington and Migration Source, Europe, presently living in US.

 

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