April 19, 2010

Yousaf Albermawy, 65, found a new homeland when he moved from Syria to Pakistan in the 1970s. And so has his son, Maath, 44. Together, they have been recruiting and placing Pakistani construction workers, farm hands, oil exploration specialists, engineers and factory workers with leading firms across the globe.

Leaving four sons and three daughters behind in Daraa, a small, conservative town in Syria that borders Jordan to the south, Yousaf Albermawy, a PhD in business administration, started recruiting manpower for Saudi construction and oil exploration companies back in the 1970s and 1980s, when the manpower export business was at its peak.  Dr Yousaf sought help from Maath, who had just graduated with a business management degree from Jordan University. Maath landed at the Karachi International Airport with his young Syrian wife, Misoun, then only 18, to start his career as well as a family life.

Today, after 23 years, Maath is a happy family man and owns a successful business, with enough work to keep him busy even on Sundays.

His human resources recruitment company, MYB International (Pvt) Limited, specialises in placing professionals, mainly outside Pakistan. Maath has placed over 10,000 Pakistanis with construction and manufacturing companies in countries such as South Korea, Malaysia and Sudan. His company takes care of the visa application processes and makes sure their candidates receive a dignified salary.

The placement of Pakistani specialists overseas contributes nearly $7 billion in remittances every year to the country’s economy. Last year, Pakistan’s GDP was $168 billion, which means remittances comprise four per cent of the country’s GDP. Ostensibly, the Pakistan government hopes to see more Pakistanis take up jobs abroad including in the US and the EU countries and bring in an estimated $18 billion in the years to come.

With the raging war against terrorism in Pakistan’s tribal areas and along Afghanistan’s border, as well as frequent bomb blasts across the country, the official estimates for an increase in manpower exports may sound too ambitious to many, but not to Maath.

Maath adds that he is about to sign an agreement with some EU countries to place Pakistani farm workers abroad. Most of the 170 million Pakistanis live in rural areas and know how to make arid land cultivable, he says. Agriculture has been their way of life for centuries.

“We are working hard to give a fresh boost to Pakistan and its human resources. We want to improve the country’s image by proving that Pakistanis are hardworking and skillful people,” he says in chaste Urdu in their defence.

It’s extremely rewarding for Maath when one of the workers his firm has helped in securing a job comes calling — often with a small gift as a token of gratitude.

Anwar Yousafzai, originally from Peshawar, brings dates, sweets and a cellular phone for Maath from South Korea, where MBY International placed him with an electronic device manufacturer. “I was employed six years ago and my standard of living has changed for the better so much so that I was able to marry off two of my sisters,” says Anwar. Additionally, he helped his brother open up a grocery store.

Letters of appreciation and gratitude from all over the world cover the walls of Maath’s office. Pakistan’s Pashtun labour force is in great demand and the best paid too, according to him. Pakistanis are known for their hard work and honesty. Their Taliban-like attire does, on occasion, arouse suspicion, but Maath remains undaunted.

Maath is a Pakistani for all practical purposes. He lives in Karachi with his two wives, Ag Misoun, a Syrian, and Aisha Khan, whose mother is English and father a Yousafzai from the Frontier. Misoun enjoys her life in Pakistan: the local markets with their rich spices, beautiful dresses — and then there is the view of the ocean. But sometimes she feels “insecure because of the terrorist attacks and the uncertainty. “Sometimes I feel that I should go away from here with my children. Then I realise that I have memories here — it is impossible for me to leave Pakistan.”

With reports from Ruzanna Tantushyan in Chicago and Alia Turki in Damascus.

Related Article: Interview: Maath Albermawy