Last week, I wrote about Pakistan’s impressive history as a host country for Afghan refugees for forty years. It was recently discussed at the ‘Refugee Summit Islamabad’, with PM Imran Khan, the UN Secretary General Angonio Gueterres, and the UNHCR High Commissioner Filippo Grandi as the most prominent speakers. The Pakistani government and ordinary Pakistanis have done a tremendous job. Of course, certain things could have been better, and I called for more documentation and research to be done so that we can draw lessons, locally and internationally. Yes, also in Europe, they need to learn more about how to treat refugees, and how to have the right attitudes towards people who are forced to leave their lands. In recent years, Syria has been a main sending country, and currently, the crisis is again escalating.

Pakistan has done well as a host country for over seven million Afghans over the four recent decades, and, true, Pakistan didn’t have much choice but to accept the displaced neighbours. Besides, they are close brothers and sisters, belonging to the same religion and culture, often also the same ethnicity as the people in the main hosting areas in Peshawar and elsewhere along the border. When refugees come, they are at the mercy on the host country and aid organizations. However, after a few years, many refugees manage to settle in and begin to look after themselves. Then, they also contribute to the economy of the host country. In Pakistan, most work in the informal sector as refugees are generally not allowed to work. Most children and youth go to school, often receiving better education than in the home country. Yet, more can be done as for education, work and integration sine many stay for long.

The ‘Refugee Summit Islamabad’ did not give enough attention to the contributions that refugees make to their host countries, especially in protracted refugee situations. For example, foreign aid is received by the host country going into its economy. In the Pakistan-Afghanistan situation, goods are transported to Afghanistan through Pakistan. There is a lot of trade between the countries, with more export from Pakistan than import from Afghanistan. Tens or maybe hundreds of thousands of Pakistani engineers and others have found work in Afghanistan, helping rebuilding the land, and making money for themselves.

It would be useful to know more about the bottom line of costs and benefits of the two countries’ refugee history. I believe Pakistan has had more costs than benefits, but I don’t really know that and it varies from sector to sector. As always, we should not only talk about the two countries in general terms. We should talk about them as individuals and groups. Many ordinary and poor Pakistanis have done a lot, as required by Islam, and as required by any kind-hearted people. In addition, there are other exchanges and benefits, and they go both ways culturally, educationally, language-wise, and more.

True, some immigrants take years to get into employment; I think the average is over four years, and some never succeed to get full-time jobs. However, it is easy to blame the immigrants, while we should also look at the systems that exist in the host country and new homeland. For example, local language is often a demand before a newcomer can get regular employment, yet, we also know that language is best learned on the job. Besides, one can also get a long way with good English in the Scandinavia nowadays and the local language can be learned over a longer time. Also, the host country should not be too arrogant and think that their ways of doing things are always better; in many cases, Syrian, Iraqi and other immigrants may have lessons to teach those Scandinavians, and even refugees may have both degrees and work experiences from home-making and in jobs.

In my home country, Norway, an Iraqi immigrant, Farouk al-Kasim, married to a Norwegian, Solfrid, when he studied petroleum geology at the Imperial College London and she was an au-pair. After a decade work experience in Iraq’s oil sector, he came to Norway in May 1968 because the couple’s youngest child had cerebral palsy and would receive better treatment and conditions in Norway than at home. Al-Kasim had not expected to find work easily in Norway. But almost by accident, while waiting for the evening train from Oslo to Stavanger, he stopped by at the Ministry of Industry, at a time when Norway had just discovered huge off-shore oil wells. He was asked to come back in the afternoon, and then a battery of senior staff waited for him. He was hired as one of three experts to establish what grew into the huge government oil company Statoil, now Equinor. Interestingly, he was a consultant, kept away from the public eye since it was too early for the Norwegians to admit that they needed expertise from a developing country!

Farouk al-Kasim became the director of the policy and planning department, building up Statoil, and in a recent interview, the now 84-year old Norwegian citizen said that he felt that Statoil was his company. He helped make sure that the Norwegian government was in charge of the oil sector, not private foreign companies, as that time was the case in Iraq. Much thanks to Farouk al-Kasim, the Norwegian oil sector was soundly on right track from the beginning, with the government controlling the private sector companies, and at the same time building its own expertise in implementation. Some years ago, al-Kasim was knighted and awarded the St. Olav Medal by the King of Norway. He has indeed contributed to building the land – and their handicapped son has done better than he would have anywhere in the world.

There are many positive stories to tell about refugees and other immigrants and how they through hard work and skills, help build their new homelands. It is about time we tell more about their contributions to the land where they now live. We should tell the great stories, and the ordinary stories. There are many benefits from the ‘melting pot’ we live in.

When we talk about the Scandinavian welfare states, we sometimes talk too much about the contributions of the industrialists, the educated, the investors and leaders. But were it not for the sweat and labour of the workers, the reliable, steady and enthusiastic men and women, and the labour unions and parties on the left, the welfare states could not have been built. Today, refugees and immigrants must be thanked for what they do in the rich host countries and in other countries, too, like Pakistan, yes, in all countries who are net receivers of people on the move.