Webinar “Covid19 and Repatriation of Pakistani Workers: Socio-economic Implications”
June 4, 2020
The Centre of Middle East & Africa (CMEA) at the Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad (ISSI) hosted a webinar titled, “Covid19 and Repatriation of Pakistani Workers: Socio-economic Implications” on June 4, 2020. The Keynote address was given by Dr. Moeed Yusuf, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on National Security Division and Strategic Policy while Ms. Amina Khan, Director CMEA gave her introductory remarks in the beginning of the proceedings. Ambassador Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, Director General Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad delivered welcome remarks at the occasion. Other speakers included Mr. Kashif Ahmed Noor, Director General Bureau of Emigration and Overseas Pakistanis; Mr. Salman Athar, Director General Crisis Management Unit, Ministry Of Foreign Affairs; Dr. Amer Sheikh, Managing Director Overseas Pakistani Foundation; Senator Sehar Kamran, Patron-in-Chief, Centre for Pakistan and Gulf Studies (CPGS) and Ambassador Asif Durrani, former Ambassador to the UAE and Iran. The webinar was moderated by Ms. Amina Khan, Director CMEA, ISSI.
Introducing the subject of the webinar, Ms. Amina Khan said that this was a subject that has disturbed the political, social, economic, religious and financial structures of the whole world. Bringing our people back home in these times of adversity requires unprecedented dedication and vision which has been demonstrated by Prime Minister Imran Khan who has always raised his voice for the rights of overseas workers long before this outbreak had even begun. He has called them a ‘national asset’ and our treatment of them should be befitting of that. In this regard, it will be important to keep coordinating with countries in the Gulf and the Middle East for securing better conditions for Pakistanis working there, once we overcome this challenge.
Ms. Arhama Siddiqa, Research Fellow CMEA, gave a presentation on the short- and long-term socio-economic implications of repatriation of Pakistani workers during the coronavirus global pandemic.
Ambassador Aizaz Ahmed Chaudhry, Director General Institute of Strategic Studies Islamabad in his welcome remarks described the topic of the discussion as timely and important in the current circumstances. He said currently we are faced with two kinds of challenges; current and long term. People stranded abroad are living in extremely difficult conditions and their return is a top priority. He praised our missions, embassies and all stakeholders for doing a phenomenal job working in sync with each other. He also stressed on the significance of high-level coordination with governments of host countries to slow down the process of laying off Pakistani workers to cushion the blow to the country’s economy.
In his keynote address, Dr. Moeed Yusuf laid out the detailed framework of coordinated activity being carried out through coordination and cooperation among different sectors of the government to bring back stranded overseas Pakistani workers safely. He elaborated how his task at the National Command and Operation Center (NCOC) is to coordinate various elements of the state such as the Aviation ministry, Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development to bring about smooth return of Pakistanis stuck abroad. He lauded the Prime Minister for championing this cause as overseas Pakistanis make up not only the mainstay of the Pakistani economy but also play a crucial role in augmenting the work of Pakistani diplomats abroad. Elaborating the policy in detail; he said that MOFA and Overseas Ministry decided on a weekly schedule for sending flights to certain countries based on criteria posted on the NCOC website and information from ambassadors placed there. He further announced a new policy that will be implemented after 10 days focused on bringing an unlimited number of people back home. Dr. Yusuf also reiterated that returning home safe and sound is a well-earned right of all overseas Pakistanis and this repatriation operation is not a favor but is our national responsibility.
Mr. Kashif Ahmed Noor, Director General Bureau of Emigration and Overseas, Pakistanis talked in detail about effects of Covid on labor immigration, remittances and carving out employment opportunities for Pakistanis who will return to Pakistan. In his presentation, he explained that remittances have not yet been affected as while focus is also being kept on return and reintegration pace of the repatriated Pakistanis. He said that data is being gathered, customized and filtered in coordination with FIA for all persons stranded abroad while arrangements for small scale entrepreneurship opportunities within Pakistan are also being made.
Mr. Salman Athar, Director General Crisis Management Unit, MOFA emphasized that no countries around the globe were prepared to deal with this unprecedented crisis and that MOFA was swift to set up a crisis management cell to deal with this situation. He also apprised the listeners about the policy coordination being carried out among different departments through drawing up lists, sharing information with OPF, NCOC and all other stakeholders. He appreciated the dedicated of the missions abroad who have done a wonderful job despite having limited manpower.
Senator Sehar Kamran presented a detailed and thought-provoking statistical analysis of the situation of workers abroad and impact of Covid 19 on their households living in Pakistan as well as in gulf countries. She raised the plight of the low-income unskilled laborers who have been the hardest hit section of the society. She also elaborated upon the many perils of unemployment; such as precarious law and order situation and socioeconomic instability. She urged the government to initiate large-scale construction projects to absorb the unemployed workers returning to Pakistan.
Dr. Amer Sheikh focused on the socio-economic implications of repatriated workers and their rehabilitation. He said that even though we may fall a little short of the expected $22 bn remittances this year, there are multiple factors to consider. The reduction has not been felt as of yet because people who were to return were sending their savings to their families in Pakistan. He informed how OPF is also working to help recover residual dues of the workers from their foreign employers. He elaborated how the OPF chains of schools are also offering 50% tuition waiver to children of returning families. In terms of reintegration, he mentioned a project with a German development agency that has given a grant of 3.16 million euros for training, microloans and setting up micro enterprises for repatriated workers.
Ambassador Asif Durrani focused on lessons learnt from this crisis and how the government should increase investment and development in the health and education sector.
In his concluding remarks, Ambassador Khalid Mahmood, Chairman BOG, ISSI, stressed that Pakistani workers abroad are not only helping their families financially by sending back remittances but are also playing a crucial role in the industrial development of their host countries, all at a great personal cost. He said that demand of unskilled workers abroad was already diminishing due to various global and regional factors and Covid-19 seems to have compounded the challenge. The current government’s response has been commendable in arranging the return of these people but the task ahead of absorbing them is the most important one. He indicated that those returning may be adjusted in the Special Economic Zones (SEZs) in different projects of CPEC that are underway.