The ugly business of human trafficking

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By M. Shahid

Gujrat, PAKISTAN: In the recent boat sinking incident off the coast of Libya, Muhammad Enayet of Gujrat, has lost his eldest son and his son’s entire family including his wife, a five year old boy and a one and half month old baby girl.

Late Ismael Enayet with his late son, Saad.
Late Ismael Enayet with his late son, Saad.

The shades of evening were hovering fast at the village of Rajo Bhand in Dinga, 25 kilometer from Gujrat, when Data Stories team reached there to talk to the most affected family of the Feb. 1 tragic incident off the coast of Libya wherein around 90 people including over 30 Pakistanis lost their lives in boat sinking incident.

The aspirants risking their lives were off to Europe through illegal sea route to have a better fortune. Ismael Enayet, 32, his wife Azmat Bibi, 29, his son Saad, 05 and his one and half month old daughter died in the boat sinking incident near Libya.

A bother of Ismael named Rehmat, 30, though defeated the death for now but will have to fight the aftershocks he has been passing through since the incident took place last Thursday before his very eyes. He is undergoing a treatment in Libya.

Besides four deaths of a family in Rajo Bhand village, two others of adjacent villages—Zabi Ullah of Khori village and Kamran of Noon village have also died.

 

Over the years, human trafficking in Pakistan has risen to the alarming stage. Gujranwala, Gujrat and Mandi Bahauddin districts in Gujranwala Division of Punjab province have become a hotcake for human traffickers. These districts, hub of illegal human trafficking, unfortunately are missing in the top priority list of those at the helm of the affairs.

 

The FIA has a thin presence of staff in Gujranwala and Gujrat. Having a total sanctioned strength of 60 officers/officials only, the FIA has a dozen investigators to deal with these most sensitive areas of human trafficking in Pakistan. Shortage of human resource is not the only issue it the agency has also been facing infrastructure issues. FIA Gujranwala and Gujrat do not have their own buildings either.

Similarly, no sub-office could be established for Mandi Bahauddin as Gujrat office which is more than two hour drive is responsible for the district.

 

 

 

This isn’t the first time that Pakistanis might have embarked upon an illegal journey which ended in such a way as only a couple of months back 20 people were shot dead in Turbat, Balochistan when they were on their way to Iran to travel further to reach Europe via Turkey using the common land route.

Pakistanis have seen such unfortunate scenes of deaths occurred in the deep sea quite often for the last couple of years. A year back, around 10 Pakistanis migrants had lost their lives while on their way to Europe.

The high monetary gain in Trafficking in Persons and Smuggling of Migrants is one of the reasons behind continued worldwide increase in trafficking. Pakistan, with its peculiar socio-economic circumstances, is particularly at risk given that approximately 60% of its over 200-million population is under 30 years of age and thus an easy target for criminals who specialize in exploiting the intending economic migrants. Pakistan is a source, transit and a destination country for human trafficking and migrant smuggling.

 

Major routes used for human trafficking and migrant smuggling are: Pakistan to United Arab Emirates via Iran and Oman; Pakistan to Greece via Iran and Turkey; and Pakistan to Spain via Middle Eastern and West African countries. Iran and Turkey serve as transit countries on these routes.

In the 1960s, majority of people migrated from Central Punjab particularly from Gujranwala, Gujrat and Mandi Bahauddin to European countries as well as to Middle Eastern Countries and the success of these migrants greatly influenced their relatives, neighbours and other common citizens in the area.

In the absence of a proper platform of guidance for legal migration, illegal human traffickers trapped such aspirant migrants easily with a promise of better earning opportunities in Europe after a brief hardship of illegal travel.

Muhammad Khan, a cousin of deceased Ismael told Data Stories that it was Ismael who reached Libya illegally some seven years ago and started construction work there. His brothers Khalil, 24 and Qaiser, 26 followed Ismael some three years ago from where both of them managed to reach Spain via the dangerous sea route from Libya.

After settling his two brothers in Spain, he says Ismael called his brother Rehmat to reach Libya along with his (Ismael’s) family some four months ago.  He says the boat left the coast off to Libya on Thursday February 1, 2018 and the sad news reached to them next morning Friday, 2nd of the February 2018.

To a question about non-cooperation of affected families with law enforcement agencies like FIA, Mr Khan says if parents don’t know anything about the agents and the deal what they could share. These days young children don’t share with parents with whom they struck the deal at what cost. A visible communication gap between the youth and their parents has increased during the recent past which is very alarming.

There is also a competition within families to overpower each other financially. To win this battle, unfortunately everything is put on stake these days, he adds. We demand strict punishments for those involved in this heinous business of illegal human trafficking in Pakistan.

 

Due to lackluster approach of the authorities concerned, Pakistan has been at the Tier-2 Watch List of the world ranking since 2014 for not fully meeting the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking. U.S. State Department every year ranks each country according to its efforts in dealing with the human trafficking issue.

 

All the Pakistanis, on boat which sank in the sea off the coast of Libya, have travelled from Pakistan on legal documents. The FIA officials inform that all these people reached Dubai on legal documents and further managed visa stickers to travel Libya.

Muhammad Enayet tells Data Stories that he owned a three-acre of land which was sold in pieces by his sons against his wish to pay for their travel expenses. He further said he didn’t wish his children to move abroad for earning.

“If I can feed my family well even being in the country why can’t my children,” Enayet says, adding, he always advised them to live here and do some kind of business to meet their needs.

Director FIA Punjab Dr Usman Anwar talking to Data Stories says due to shortage of human resource and lack of awareness on the part of general public, human trafficking is a tough crime in Pakistan to deal with. He says we have to address all the pull factors which attract people to choose such an illegal journey including poverty, joblessness, lack of opportunities and social inequality, etc.

Director FIA Punjab Dr Usman Anwar. DS photo
Director FIA Punjab Dr Usman Anwar. DS photo

He says that like FIA Link Office, in Muscat, Oman, establishment of immigration liaison offices in Iran and Turkey are need of the hour to check the menace of human smuggling as   thousands of Pakistanis are leaving for Europe illegally every year through land routes of Iran, Turkey, and Greece.

As per some reports, the senior FIA official says over 6,500 of Pakistanis entered Europe, including Germany and Italy, illegally in 2017 alone. To a question, Usman informs that the agents in Turkey, Greece, Italy and Germany are also in contact with the local agents in Quetta and in Iran to get innocent intending emigrants to Italy and Germany through the common land route of Iran, Turkey and Greece.

We have shared particulars of those identified agents based in Iran, Turkey, Greece and Germany with the Embassies and quarters concerned and waiting their response, he adds.

The FIA official also talks about the law Emigration Ordinance, 1979 which is being used to deal with the cases of human smuggling, saying long due amendments should be incorporated to increase punishments for this heinous crime of human smuggling/trafficking.

Within a couple of days the FIA team of Gujrat managed to arrest three accused agents of human traffickers involved in sending those people who were on board when the boat sunk including Mehboob Shah, Siddique Butt and Mudassar Imran.

Talking to Data Stories in FIA Gujrat office, Mudassar Imran, in his early twenties, said hardly a few months ago he actually got involved in this heinous crime. He said his elder brother Mubashar is a known agent of human smuggling as he had also served a jail term in Libya for his illegal crimes of human smuggling/trafficking.

 

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