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Sunday, February 15, 2009
By Faryal Najeeb

KARACHI: Irfan Ahmed is a BA student at the University of Karachi, until recently, his family was well settled in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Then his father was forced to resign from his job, and everything changed for the entire family.

“We had to move back immediately. It was traumatic for everyone,” said Ahmed.

Coming back home did not prove to be successful for his father, who is still unemployed.

“My father is already over 50 years old,” said Ahmed. “He will not find work very easily, and we don’t have enough money to start a business here.”

Shortly after arriving, Ahmed’s elder sister landed a job at a local firm. Currently, she is the sole breadwinner of the family, but their financial condition means that Ahmed, too, will have to juggle employment with his studies. “I am already looking for work,” he said.

Irfan Ahmed’s story is not unusual. The recession in the UAE economy has proved to be disastrous not only for the real estate sector in the country but for all businesses. There have been a massive number of job cuts, with Pakistanis and Indians being the worst hit among the salaried class. As Pakistani families established in the UAE pack up and return, the excitement that came with the thought of settling in Dubai has long ceased.

“Inbound flights to Dubai are almost empty, whereas passengers for outbound routes are battling for seats,” said an expert in the aviation industry in Dubai.

According to the expert, there are two broad categories of people who are trying to leave.

“The first comprises all those employees who had been made redundant within a moment’s notice, and the rest are those who either fear for their job or have already been informed that they will be laid off in the coming months,” he said.

There is now an overwhelming sense of concern among Pakistanis in Dubai, many of whom no longer have prospects in the UAE or anywhere else.

“Pakistani residents with families in the UAE have one of two options: leave for Pakistan immediately, or wait until the children’s academic year finishes,” said Syed Akhtar, a sales agent based in Dubai.

Akhtar added that most families opted for the latter, as leaving immediately would affect their children mentally, emotionally, and academically.

“Many families I know had enough savings to pull through before school closed for the summer,” said Akhtar. “While they waited, they worked on setting up a home in Pakistan and looked for means of earning a living there.”

Amna Islam, an HR professional at a local firm, explained that people returning to Pakistan after the global recession are either venturing into small businesses or looking for job opportunities.

“Either way it’s not easy for them as their life had to be abruptly uprooted and replanted elsewhere,” she said. “It is especially difficult for middle-aged men, whose chances of finding a job here in Pakistan are very slim.”

It is a fact Emad Sultan, a banker by profession, is well aware of. Made redundant at his workplace in the UAE, he is one of many who have failed to find work since returning to Pakistan.

“All the young men I knew who were laid off immediately went back to their home countries, as there was no point living in the UAE anymore,” he said. “Some searched for alternative jobs, but I don’t know anyone who succeeded.”

While many Pakistanis have left the UAE altogether, some have remained behind to work while sending their families back home. “Job insecurity is very high in the UAE - everyone is stressed,” said Sultan. “Pakistanis and Indians are amongst the worst affected, especially those who had been associated with the real estate sector.”
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