The number of people leaving Pakistan to seek asylum elsewhere has risen dramatically over the past few years and there seems to be no indication that this trend is going to stop. Drawing on the United Nation Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report titled ‘Asylum Trends Report 2014’ and from data collected by regional immigration offices in the host countries, Pakistan is the “sixth highest source country of asylum seekers in the industrialised world” in 2014 after Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Serbia and Eritrea. The numbers, alarming still, are not a true reflection of the facts on the ground; the report only counts reports from 44 industrialised countries, it excludes places like the Middle East, Sri Lanka and East Asia – all of which are popular destinations for Pakistani asylum seekers. The number of asylum applications has reached an estimated 866,000 in 2014, up by 45 per cent from a year earlier, what is the cause for such a sudden increase? What can be done to stem this exodus?

While the prevalent belief – the one that is pushed by right-wing, anti immigration politicians in the west - that the prime cause of behind people seeking asylum is better economic opportunities is disproved by the facts. Economic migration from poor countries to rich ones is certainly a reality, but it stands separate from asylum seeking, and confusing the two undermines the efficacy of both systems. Firstly, the top five countries that are the source of asylum seekers are beset with active conflicts or plagued by systemic repression and a stagnant economy. Secondly, their destinations are not always countries with better economic opportunities; many refugees migrate to countries that are equally stagnant economically, just to escape the treat that hangs over their head.

It is ridiculous that Pakistan managed to join this auspicious list without an active nationwide conflict or a failed economy. It speaks volumes about the trust placed in the state by its citizens. The reason Pakistan has produced so many asylum seekers is it’s apathy to the prosecution of religious minorities. The majority of the refugees belong to the minority sects of Islam, such as Ismaili, Shia and Ahmadi, and religious minorities, Hindus, Christians and Sikhs. Repeated aggression against the groups, which goes unpunished by the state, has forced them to seek their fortunes elsewhere; taking with them their rich cultural, their expertise and their financial investment. This exodus lies at the door of the government, which has failed to stem aggression against minorities, failed to prosecute the perpetrators, and has failed to make minorities feel protected as Pakistani citizens. Unless this tide is stemmed, Pakistani society is destined to become monotone and threadbare.