September 05, 2011

Pakis 3rd largest group in Norway
[07.08.2011, 07:06am, Sun. GMT]

It was an eye-popping - and not just an eye-catching - statistic. In the hours and days after the terrorist attack in Norway on July 22, when the world's eyes trained towards the usual suspects, it emerged that Pakistanis (absolved of the blame, much to their relief) are the third largest number of immigrants in Norway after Poles and Swedes. Further inquiries revealed that it was not just a FACTOID (a questionable or spurious statement presented without veracity) but an accurate, verifiable FACT.
A thinly-populated country of 5 million people, Norway, according to its government statistics, has more than 600,000 (or about 12%) immigrants as of 2011. Poles top the list of immigrants at 60,000, followed by Swedes at 34,000. But followed by Pakistanis at 32,000? How could that be?

Why Pakistanis have the wood on Norway becomes a little clearer when you examine the next two immigrant nationalities on the list - Iraq and Somalia (27,000 each). Iran and Turkey also figure at 9th and 10th (16,000) each. In contrast, there are only 10,000 Indians in Norway, less than a third of the Pakistani immigrant population. In fact, there are more Sri Lankans and Afghans (14,000 each) than Indians. So are Indians reluctant to migrate to Norway? If it is not cold enough or distant enough to stop Pakistanis and Lankans, why should it inhibit Indians, arguably one of the world's biggest migrant groups with a diaspora of more than 30 million worldwide?

We put the question of the skewed numbers to Indian diplomats who had served in the region. Their observations provide a fascinating insight into the drivers of immigration. Clearly, population of countries is just one part of the equation because Chinese and Indians are among the smaller immigrant groups in Norway. From all accounts, immigration to Norway is driven from distant politically and economically troubled states. Pakistan, Iraq, Somalia, Sri Lanka all went through political turmoil at a time Norway also had liberal immigration policies, especially towards political refugees. One Indian diplomat, who served in nearby Denmark, also pointed out that through much of the 1970s and 1980s, when it was difficult for Indians to secure passports, much less visas, Pakistanis had no such problems, often snagging 2-3 passports. A liberal passport regime in their home countries helped them emigrate in much larger numbers in proportion to India, which has six times Pakistan's population.

This is evident across the world, including in the US, where the Indian-American population is said to have crossed 3 million, and Pakistani-American numbers are thought to be in the region of 700,000 - about a 4:1 ratio. But in many Western European countries, especially in Scandinavia, Indians are fewer in numbers than Pakistanis, Arabs, Turks, etc. In that sense, both India and China appear to have been victims of a restrictive passport regime, not to speak of their own domestic economic success.

Such one-shot political and economic-based immigration can occur between countries under special circumstances. For instances, Germany's massive 4 million Turkish immigrant population began innocuously enough in the 1960s on the back of high population growth and mass unemployment within Turkey and a demand for cheap labour in Germany. The construction of the Berlin Wall had restricted the flow of labour from East Germany so the Turkish government asked Germany to recruit Turkish guest workers. By the 1980s and 1990s, family re-unification rights propelled it past a million, at which point it also becomes a political and electoral issue.

Norway's Pakistani growth has followed a similar pattern on a smaller scale. Many early Pakistanis immigrants came in fact from Punjab's Kharian town and surrounding areas in the 1960s and swelled through the family re-unification process in the 1970s and 1980s even as immigration laws became stricter in 1976. Today, Pakistani-Norwegians are making a mark in public and political life: Akhtar Chaudhry is a Member of the current Stortinget (Norway's Parliament) for the Sosialistisk Venstreparti (Socialist Left Party); Afshan Rafiq is a former member of the Stortinget for the Hoyre (Conservative Party of Norway) and her husband Aamir Sheikh is a member the Oslo city council. There are Pakistani-Norwegian news anchors, entertainers, and filmmakers.

Does that mean that Pakistan has a leg up on India as a political lobbying force in Norway and other countries? And does it mean Indians have forgone economic opportunity in these small niche countries with their focus on Anglophone nations such as US, UK, Canada and Australia? This is hard to say. Local immigrant population is just one factor in establishing political and economic clout. At the end of the day, it would seem a country is more than about the number of immigrants it puts out.

Times View

The fact that Pakistanis are a larger immigrant group than Indians in Scandinavian countries like Norway is not merely an amusing fact; it's actually a cause for concern. The Indian Diaspora in countries like the US, UK, Australia has not only prospered, it has given the country a great deal of influence in these regions. This has been the Indian way of winning the world. But Indians are in small numbers in niche rich countries like Norway, Sweden and Denmark. This is because of our knowledge of English. While even languages like Spanish and French are taught here, Swedish, Norwegian or Danish aren't. This is despite the fact that the human development indicators of this region are among the best in the world. Learning the languages of this region may well be the new passports to prosperity for immigrants. Government should, therefore, promote these languages. In fact, it should focus more on winning the fjords of Norway than the glaciers of Siachen.


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