Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


It's not unusual for workers the world over to cross borders, sometimes illegally, to find a safer environment and better wages. It is unusual when that land of opportunity is Afghanistan.

But a wave of manual laborers has been crossing the border from neighboring Pakistan. They're running from economic and political turmoil at home and to double wages and, in some cases, better security.

NPR's Quil Lawrence has the story.

QUIL LAWRENCE: The city of Kabul is growing faster than the government can measure, mostly in the form of big concrete and brick buildings. But an increasing number of the laborers on the buildings aren't from here.

Mr. ENYA ATULLAH: (Speaking foreign language)

LAWRENCE: Enya Atullah, an Afghan working on the precarious fourth floor of a new building, says he knows Pakistani day-laborers will do his job for less.

Mr. ATULLAH: (Through translator) They've ruined our work. We don't make because we have to compete with them. We hope that the government would come up with some policy to stop them from coming here.

LAWRENCE: An official from the Afghan ministry of labor said he has no idea how many Pakistanis are working in the country illegally, and he frankly admitted that the government has almost no control over individuals who cross the border. Most of them are Pashtuns, and they have ethnic and family ties that straddle the frontier.

Of course, Afghan contractors don't mind the migrants, according to one businessman who gave his name only as Amin. Pakistani laborers will work day or night for about half the price of Afghans.

AMIN: Pakistani people is taking less money than Afghan people. In this case everybody's chose the Pakistani workers, and also maybe they are working during night, all the time. If you are paying money, they are working.

LAWRENCE: Amin admits to some smugness that Afghanistan, which saw millions of refugees flee to Pakistan during the 1980s, is now in the more advantageous position. It's not so satisfying on the other side.

AZIZULLAH: (Speaking foreign language)

LAWRENCE: It's bad at home, says Azizullah, who uses only one name. He's from Bajur, one of Pakistan's semi-autonomous tribal areas on the Afghan border. He's been working as a mason in Afghanistan for about three months.

AZIZULLAH: (Through translator) Things are so bad in Pakistan that you can't even - if you get out of the city, there is fear of kidnapping. There's not much work. Security is pretty bad, and of course then there are no jobs.

LAWRENCE: Azizullah says there were foreigners in his home village, by which he probably means al-Qaida and Taliban fighters who cross the border into the Afghan province of Kunar to fight.

He says the Pakistani army cleared them out for the most part. But Kabul still feels safer, and can he earn money to support his wife and kids back home.

AZIZULLAH: (Speaking foreign language)

LAWRENCE: Azizullah says he feels no certainty about the way Pakistan is headed, and in that he shares the same sentiment as many in Islamabad, Kabul, and Washington.

Quil Lawrence, NPR News, Kabul.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.