any means necessary
hell and back
government has a lacklustre stance...'
Death toll in accidents does not make breaking news any more. It is the intensity or the unique manner of death that makes people sit up and take notice. The death of fourteen illegal Pakistani immigrants in Turkey would also have gone unnoticed if they had been shot by the border security force. The fact that they were packed in a container truck along with about 130 other people while being transported from one city to the other and died of suffocation is what turned it into news.
Every few years some such incident involving the excruciating death of one or more Pakistanis, while trying to break free from their suffocating lives in the home country, brings the issue of human trafficking to the fore. Editorials get written asking for efforts to warn the people of the perils of undertaking such journeys. But the trade survives as the agents and their protectors continue to thrive.
This happens because, accidents apart, success stories continue to be written. Some people manage to end up away from homes, to the lands of dreams -- which could be anywhere from the Gulf states to South East Asian countries to the ultimate destinations in Europe -- and become an inspiration for the multitudes who languish here.
Human trafficking business has been identified as the second largest trade after drugs and weapons and is estimated to generate about seven billion dollars a year. With such international attention by the media and law-enforcing agencies, it is strange why there is such inertia in making a crackdown on the criminals who are minting money out of this illegal trade. Obviously there are prisoners in the jails of most countries who may be ready to divulge the details of the agents who brought them to this state. But as we noticed inertia is the only reaction.
We, too, decided to get the viewpoint of Director General FIA (Federal Investigation Agency) regarding this particular incident and the issue of human trafficking in general. We also wanted to know the details of the statistics provided by FIA's anti-smuggling unit according to which of the 2048 people deported to Pakistan during the seven months of the current year, 733 belonged to Gujrat, 414 to Sialkot, 393 to Gujranwala and 298 to Mandi Bahauddin.
We did not manage to get the FIA's version, but we did send the TNS team to Gujranwala, Gujrat, Kharian and Sialkot districts and their adjoining tehsils to get the area profiles and actual stories of illegal immigrants and their families. Here are a few of them.
By Saeed ur Rehman
"I arrived in Athens in an ice-cream delivery truck from a village near Istanbul. The truck was partitioned in the middle and one part of the truck was sealed as if it contained parts of the gearbox or engine. Under normal circumstances, the customs officials would never think of opening a sealed, riveted part of the body of an ice-cream truck. They only looked at the ice-cream by opening the door at the rear. We were between the ice-cream boxes and the driver, in the sealed box which had a hole opening towards the ground. It was our source for oxygen and dirt. We were thankful even though it was December and the cold wind was swishing inwards. You must have watched the news on TV recently: fourteen Pakistanis suffocated to their death in Turkey. Those could have been us without that perforation in the floor. We were shivering but we had oxygen.
"I was sitting with my knees huddled to my chest. My feet had nine toe-nails missing. My body had shed whatever it could without losing the vital organs on a frozen, marshy non-passage between Iran and Turkey. And the truck rumbled to a halt in a yard in the outskirts of Athens. The yard belonged to the local agent who was responsible for keeping us for some days after arrival. He gave us very little food: one pizza slice and a glass of cola in 24 hours per person. Our stomachs had probably shrunk because even this felt sufficient. We rested and called our families to ask them to give the remaining amount to the agents in Pakistan. Athens was the final destination of our paperless journey on the land route from Narang Mandi.
"In the first couple of months, I just recuperated and familiarised myself with the city, the local laws and the community of illegal immigrants from Pakistan. I registered myself with the local authorities and got a 3-month, but renewable, residence permit as an illegal arrival. At the same time, I tried to learn some Greek and started looking for work. After the first six months of joblessness, I found one day of work. It involved carrying some furniture to the sixth floor of a building. I earned my first 100 Euros that day. Then again I was jobless. When I had no money, some Pakistanis extended me food and accommodation on credit. Some others just hosted me for free till the time I got work.
"Once I got a six-month contract painting a building, I started saving for the next part of my journey. It involved buying a Greek passport and putting my picture on it so that I could enter Spain. The cost was 1600 Euros. I was able to save 800 Euros after returning the money I had borrowed during my lean days. I called my elder brother back home and he arranged a loan of 800 Euros. I bought a Greek passport and got my picture affixed on it. Now I could travel within the Schengen zone. According to the agreement, I would courier the passport back to the real owner after entering Spain. So, after almost two years in Athens, I boarded a flight to Barcelona. During the flight, I could recognise four others who were travelling like me. When the plane landed, I just headed for the sign saying 'EU Citizens'. One person checked my passport with a cursory glance and waved me away. I was outside the airport and in Barcelona. I arrived at the house of some relatives who had entered some years earlier in an orange-delivery truck from Romania to France and then taken another van from Paris to Barcelona. Now they were all permanent residents of Spain.
"Some days after my arrival, I sent the passport back to Athens through a courier company. I am a paperless person now and registered with the local town council. Legally, I am not allowed to work but I have a job at a construction site where other Pakistanis work. The wages are low for illegal workers but Spain is enjoying a boom in its construction industry because of people like me.
"If I am not arrested by the police for any petty thing for three years, I can file a claim to permanent residence. I am also learning Spanish.
"I have evolved a complex set of habits. I try to walk in those streets which are not part of the police beat. If I see some police officers ahead, I change my course without attracting attention. I go to work early in the morning at a construction site and come back in the afternoon, just like a normal, hardworking resident of Catalonia.
"I live a cheap, frugal penny-pinching life with five other Pakistanis in a flat which has one bedroom and one lounge. We all sleep on mattresses on the floor. To save food expenses, we run a communal kitchen and buy food in bulk and take turns at cooking. We often cook what we are familiar with and buy grocery items at Pakistani shops. Every now and then, someone has a lucky break at securing some extra money. Then we celebrate by cooking sweet vermicelli or rice pudding. If there is any extra money, we send it home to help our parents or relatives.
"I consider myself lucky that I have survived a journey which I would never have undertaken had I known the perils I was to encounter. Not everyone who started with me was able to make it to Athens. My survival is not linked with my physical strength. I am actually quite frail, almost emaciated, and I have a chronic hepatitis C infection. Sometimes, after a laborious day, I start vomiting bile. Perhaps I survived because I cling to life more stubbornly or I am just lucky. Even now, I have registered myself with a local government hospital and go for regular checkups of my liver. After one year, I will file the claim for permanent residence. I have already acquired some health benefits that I did not have back home. I have hope. It is quite human. Really."
A teenager's journey to Greece that was marked by torment and abuse
By Aoun Sahi
Nineteen years old Sibtul Hassan, a resident of Mandranwala village in Sialkot district, is among those young people of the area who have grown up with the dream that they will one day land in Europe -- well, basically to change the fate of their family. A year ago, one of Sibtul's closest friends Zamin managed to reach Greece -- albeit illegally -- in his very first attempt. Suddenly he was an inspiration to a whole lot of people his age and even older.
In Nov last year, Sibtul with a group of 15 friends and cousins decided to take up the challenge of going to Greece -- again, illegally -- via Iran and Turkey. Zamin had promised to help them settle down once they make it there. Another common contact between them was the agent who had helped Zamin get to Greece. It was decided that everybody would cough up a sum of Rs 0.5 million each and give it to the agent once they reach their destination.
Their journey from Sialkot to Karachi began in the last week of Nov 2007. They had been strictly warned not to interact even with each other when travelling. "It was only after we reached Karachi that we spoke to a local person on the phone whose number had been provided to us by our agent in Sialkot, and informed him about our arrival," Sibtul tells TNS.
"The man took us with him into a small room where we were kept for a good seven days. We were not allowed to leave the room. After a week, all of us were divided into groups of two. From Karachi we were sent to Mand Billo, Balochistan, a city close to the Iranian border. It was a 14-hour drive and none of us were allowed to sit on adjoining seats in the coaster.
"After reaching Mand Billo, we met our new agent at the bus stop from where we were packed off in a Toyota jeep that took us to the border.
"We crossed the border on foot, walking through the barren hills for three long hours before we could reach a nearby town. The agent had arranged for our trip up to Tehran. We were advised to tell everybody that we were pilgrims visiting Imam Raza's shrine.
"From Tehran we were sent to the Turkey border. We were not allowed to stay over or unwind, and we had food only once in 24 hours.
"Once again we had to cross the border on foot. It was dark and cold, but our agents forced us to follow them. In 4 hours' time we had reached Turkey. Here we were allowed to have rest after all. We were kept in a small room, again, and in the dead of the night our journey to Istanbul started.
"It was terrible. The agents started packing us in cargo containers and ambulances as if we were cattle. In one container there were about 150 people. I was in an ambulance that carried 40-odd people. Come to think of it, it was a 24-hour long journey and I could not move a limb. The ambulance stopped over only once and that too in a jungle, for 10 minutes. We were given small amounts of water all this while. I still remember people crying to stop the vehicle because they wanted to answer the call of nature, but they were not allowed to. Those who urinated in the van were tortured by the driver. Later, they were handed over to Istanbul-based agents who shifted them to a large room known as 'Safe'."
Sibtul was forced to stay for four and a half months in the Safe along with some 450 people. The room was not spacious enough to accommodate such a lot of people. They could barely have sleep indoors. Again, they could have food only once in 24 hours. Those who protested were subjected to physical torture.
"One day I dared to ask the agent who was a Pakistani guy for more food. He told me to follow him and led me out of the Safe. The next I knew, he ordered me to lie on the ground while two of his aides held my legs and arms. He started smacking me with a heavy stick. He beat me till I knocked out. Later, I learnt that an elderly person was also treated in the same way that resulted in his death. God knows I never asked for food again.
"The worst part was having to wait for one's turn for hours outside the washroom. The Safe had only one washroom and we were 450-plus people. No one was allowed to use it for over a minute. Two people passed out only because of some stomach ailment that they developed on the way.
"After four and a half months, the agent got the green signal and our journey from Istanbul to Azmir (Turkish city near Grecian border) began. This time I had to travel in a container that housed about 140 people. It was a 16-hour long drive during the course of which three people lost their lives. Their bodies were thrown out like waste.
"I stayed for a week in Azmir. I was lodged in a small room along with a number of people a majority of whom were from Sialkot, Gujrat, Gujranwala and Mandi Bahauddin districts of Pakistan.
"In April this year, we were asked to get ready for our final journey to Greece via a speedboat. Some 76 people including me were loaded on the ship. It set sail with awesome speed and the captain was not bothered about our safety. We must be a small distance away when we found security boats patrolling in the water. Our captain did not want to take the risk and offloaded us on the wild shores. What's more, he told us that he'd come the next day to take us back. We ended up staying in the jungle for 22 long days but nobody came to our rescue. We lived off the herbs and the foliage. Two of our group mates were killed, after which we decided that enough was enough and we ought to get out of the place on our own.
"After walking for two long hours, when we were just a few kilometres away from Athens the police caught hold of us. They thrashed us with plastic water pipes for hours and, later, handed us over to the Turkish border force. Here, again, we were subjected to physical torture.
"We were now shifted to Deport Centre in Azmir and, 28 days later, I along with many others was deported to Pakistan."
Further misery awaited Sibtul back home. The FIA officials arrested him as soon as he flew in to Islamabad airport and took him to (FIA's) Gujranwala office. "I remained in jail for 5 days before I was released on bail."
These days, Sibtul works with a tailor in his village and is planning to go to Saudi Arabia. Interestingly, he still dreams of going to Europe. But, he knows one thing: this time it'll have to be by legal means.
Travails of a family that lost its young son to death-dealing agents
Khurram Shahzad, 21, a resident of Islampura in Daska city, Sialkot district, left his home on June 16, 2008, for Europe. He had stars in his eyes but his problem was that he was without a visa of any European country.
Khurram's family did not want him to go, but when an agent named Abid Cheema, also a friend of Khurram's elder brother Saleem, offered to arrange for his airfare, they complied. In return, the agent demanded Rs 0.75 million which were payable to him once Khurram reached his destination.
With the blessings of his family Khurram left Pakistan. He hadn't the slightest idea what he was heading for.
On July 30, 2008, on his way to Istanbul via the Iranian border in a cargo container, Khurram died of suffocation along with 12 other young Pakistani boys.
"We were shocked to hear the news," recalls Saleem Imtiaz. "The agent had told us that Khurram would be traveling by air.
"When I learnt that Khurram was being smuggled along with a host of others via Iran and Turkey to Europe, and that they were forced to travel on foot and in overcrowded vehicles, I couldn't believe my ears. I contacted the agent who reassured me that the journey by road was going to be over and Khurram would board an airplane from the next destination.
"But, this was not to be," says a teary-eyed Saleem.
"The last time I got to speak to my brother was on July 27 when he told me that he was being transported in a cargo container. I called up the agent again and he was ready to hurl his pack of lies my way. I tried to comfort Khurram. His last words were, 'Khuda Hafiz'."
It's been a few days since the tragedy befell the aggrieved family of Khurram, but they are still reeling from the shock. Khurram's mother and sister can't seem to recover from a nervous breakdown. His father and brothers are a picture of grief. His close friends cannot believe they've lost "such a good friend" who was also a "a very obedient son".
Mercifully, Waseem Imtiaz, Khurram's elder brother, happened to be in Germany at the time and managed to get the dead body back home from Turkey in two days flat. Although, he admits, it was one real ordeal.
"I rushed off to Turkey as soon as I heard the news. I reached Istanbul in the wee hours of Friday, Aug 1, 2008, and headed straight to a local police station. It did not deal with illegal immigrants and so I was directed to another place which took me an hour to reach. The police official present here told me that a group of 120 illegal immigrants had been arrested. He also confirmed that most of them were Pakistanis and that 13 out of them had been found dead.
"I was not allowed to meet the prisoners. But I hung around the place, hoping that my brother was alive."
His hopes were dashed to pieces when he met the arrested immigrants later. Khurram was nowhere to be found. "But I saw that they (the prisoners) were treated savagely. It was biting cold in there but they had not been provided blankets."
Waseem found that most of the arrested people were Pakistanis who hailed from Gujrat, Gujranwala, Sialkot and Mandi Bahauddin.
"I flashed my brother's photograph to everybody in the prisonhouse. Finally, a person belonging to Daska identified Khurram and told me that he had expired in the container itself.
"I rushed to the mortuary and there it was -- the corpse, lying still in a frozen box. The condition of the dead body was so bad that I couldn't stay there for long. It clearly indicated the kind of treatment Khurram had been given. I could see marks of torture all over. The doctors advised me to remove the dead body as early as possible."
Waseem's agony was not to end here. As he tells TNS,the officials at Pakistan Embassy put him through a rigmarole of red tape. "It was Friday and there was only one flight to Islamabad due in the week. If I missed it, that meant I'd have to wait for three days before I could catch the next flight. But they were not ready to help. I was asked to arrange a photocopy of my brother's Nadra ID card in addition to an official letter that would prove that I was Khurram's brother, so that the dead body should be handed over to me."
Waseem also had problems arranging PIA's air ticket. It was arranged by his brother back in Pakistan. And when he reached the airport he could not find a PIA official. "They have deputed agents that are Turks and do not know a word of Urdu or even English. They charged 1000-2000 Euros for customs clearance and booking of dead body in the flight." At long last, Waseem succeeded in getting the corpse back home.
"I don't know who is responsible for the death of my brother, but I implore the government to deal with this menace of human smuggling with a stern hand," he concludes.
Till the filing of this report, none of the law enforcement agencies -- including the FIA -- had contacted the bereaved family of Khurram. They don't know if justice will be done. As for now, Khurram's mother cannot stop wailing and crying. There seems to be no end to mourning at this part of the earth.
-- Aoun Sahi
Around 1000 people from Mandair village have settled in Europe and thousands more are aspiring to join them
By Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
Every year thousands of Pakistanis trying to reach foreign lands illegally are intercepted, arrested and sent back to Pakistan. Some of them also die during the course of the journey due to suffocation, bullet injuries or drowning in deep seas. Over the years, the trend of travelling via land routes has increased drastically as impersonation has become possible after the introduction of computerised passports.
Of all those who embark on this journey under the shadow of death, a majority belong to the areas in and adjoining the districts of Gujrat, Sialkot, Mandi Bahauddin and Gujranwala. As per figures provided to TNS by the FIA's anti-smuggling unit, in total 2048 people have been deported to Pakistan from Turkey and Greece during the first seven months of the current year. Of these, 733 belong to Gujrat, 414 to Sialkot, 393 to Gujranwala and 298 to Mandi Bahauddin and the rest to other parts of the country. This means that out of the total 2048 deportees 1838 or 90 per cent belong to these four districts. Due to this extraordinarily high incidence of illegal immigration in this region, FIA has set up its special establishment in Gujranwala to deal with the menace.
It is quite strange that such a large number of people from these areas should put their lives at risk for this purpose. It is despite the fact that these areas are hubs of small- and medium-scale industry and offer more earning opportunities to its people than most parts of the country.
A detailed study of the area's recent history and accounts of locals reveal that there are certain unique factors that force people to leave for greener pastures at any cost. It's a fact that a large number of youth in these areas do not seriously pursue their studies and careers only for the reason that one day they have to land up in Europe or some other foreign destination.
"No doubt it was the massive displacement caused by the construction of Mangla Dam in 1960s and the settlement of the affectees in the United Kingdom that had a spillover effect in these areas," says Chaudhry Ijaz Ahmed, a resident of Kharian tehsil in Gujrat district.
Ijaz says that Mirpur, which is at about half an hour's distance from Kharian, saw most of its populace shift abroad. Within no time these people settled there and started sending loads of money back home which was mostly used on building palatial houses and buying expensive cars, he adds.
"When people in these areas saw how fast Mirpuris were becoming rich they decided to take a chance and head for European destinations," he says. Going there was easy at that time as visas could be obtained easily on reaching borders. Secondly, he says, Denmark opened immigration for foreigners in early 1970 as it needed labour for its industry and closed it by October same year. This was the time when a large number of Gujratis reached Denmark and settled there for good, he adds.
Slowly and gradually, these expatriates started taking their close relatives as well as distant ones to Europe. However, the situation became worse in the 1980s when the European countries tightened border controls to limit the number of labourers coming from Asian countries. This, Ijaz says, was for the reason that industrial progress in Europe had slowed down because of flooding of their markets with Chinese markets. The labour market was already saturated and in no position to absorb more.
But, by that time, a whole generation of expatriates had come up in Europe and were in a position to sponsor their relatives back home. In many cases, people got nationalities by actually marrying expatriates or falsely mentioning that they were related to those settled there. "This was possible as at that time there was no electronic data sharing or use of DNA tests to determine lineage."
Rasheed Butt, a businessman based in Gujrat, tells TNS that the mass exodus of Europe-bound populace from the region in late 1960s is attributed mainly to the efforts of late Nek Alam, a noted political figure of the area. This man had returned from abroad and founded a political party called Bhukh Mukao (End Hunger) party. His agenda was to convince and take people to developed countries in Europe where they could earn more and put an end to their miseries. It was still very difficult at that time to make people move from their homeland but Nek Alam succeeded in his mission.
According to Rasheed, it was quite cheap to travel to Europe at that time as buses full of passengers used to pass through the territories of Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey to reach Europe. "May be it's the nostalgia for this extensively treaded land route that forces illegal immigrants to embark on this journey to death," he adds.
Butt says the illegal method is adopted by those who are not wealthy enough to have impressive bank statements and documents required by the foreign missions in order to issue them travel visas to their countries.
Another reason why the said region continues to lose its inhabitants to Europe is that the expatriates prefer to marry their children off to their 'matches' in Pakistan, who are mostly their relatives. Once a person gets nationality by marriage, he or she starts manoeuvring to take all their blood relatives along with them one by one however long it takes.
Of immense interest was the visit of TNS team to Mandair village in Kharian tehsil comrising no less than 10,000 residents and a large number of luxurious bungalows that the richest of the richest may envy. It was learnt that around 1000 people from this village have settled in Europe and thousands more vying to join them. Haji Nawaz, an aged villager, says besides other thing the caste rivalries (shareeka) within the Jutt and Gujjar castes in Mandair are also responsible for this mad race for settlement abroad. "When a person lands there his relatives become restless and try every possible means -- legal or illegal -- to match the deed."
-- Rao Abid Hamid, coordinator of the Vulnerable Prisoners, Penal Reforms Project
By Aziz Omar
Searching for new means of making a living has always been a driving factor for people to move from place to another. Before the entity of a nation-state came into being, large numbers of people were always traversing the land in search of a livelihood and better living conditions. However, in present day and age, political boundaries between countries have resulted in debarring such unsolicited seekers of subsistence. In the case of Pakistani nationals attempting to enter into foreign countries in hope of building a better future, the situation is even worse in the backdrop of 'the land of the pure' being branded as the most dangerous country in the world. Hence, scores of Pakistanis have resorted to availing the services of human traffickers in order to be smuggled into a prosperous nation. However, only a small fraction is able to evade the border security forces. The majority ends up languishing in prisons such as those of Oman, US, UK, Greece or Italy.
Pakistan's embassies abroad have very little or no information regarding the number of Pakistani nationals imprisoned in their respective host countries. Information on the conditions of their incarceration is scantier. According to Rao Abid Hamid, who is the coordinator of the Vulnerable Prisoners - Penal Reforms Project, there are no information channels via which details pertaining to Pakistani inmates in foreign prisons can be ascertained.
"Yes, individual cases do emerge such as that of a Pakistani national who has been serving 20 years in Thailand on charges of drug smuggling or that of a guy named Sohail who has been biding his time in a Japanese jail," he reveals.
Rao Abid further adds that there are organisations such as the Penal Reform International (PRI) with whose collaboration the project he is currently working was also started. The project seeks to bring about changes in the criminal justice systems worldwide. This organisation was founded in 1989 by Ahmed Othmani who himself had served around ten years in prison in his native Tunisia.
Rao Abid laments the fact that Pakistani government has a lacklustre stance on getting their citizens freed from foreign prisons and having them deported back to their native state. The foreign embassies cite reasons such as lack of funds and personnel for not being able to expedite the release of Pakistani convicts. Even if a respective foreign government has legal procedures in place for dealing with imprisoned illegal immigrants, the time it takes for the system to deliver results renders most of the prisoners to suffer due to lack of sufficient food and medical attention.
The media regularly reports hundreds of Pakistani prisoners returning home after being deported back from their destination country. Yet many more keep on being exploited by human traffickers, who allegedly have links with some concerned authorities at home as well as abroad, and landing in foreign prisons. Apart from clamping down on the traffickers' networks and creating more employment opportunities in Pakistan, there is also a dire need for educating the people about the pitfalls making their way illegally to foreign shores. The majority of the hopeful immigrants have little education and no knowledge about their target country's language or culture. Hence, what also needs to be stressed is that even if some do manage to make it scot-free inside a foreign state, the work options and their remuneration might be completely different from the rosy perception that they have been holding on to.
Victims of fraud or partners in crime? The deportees have to face the wrath of investigating agencies
The ordeal of victims of human smuggling does not end with their capture by Iranian or Turkish border officials. There's a lot more in store for them which they have to bear on their way back home. It may include having to prove one's identity in an alien land, getting new passport issued as the original is often confiscated by the agent, and arranging funds for air ticket for home-bound journey.
"The news of my arrest in Turkey dropped as a bombshell for my family in Lahore. They had no idea that I had fallen into the hands of human smugglers," says Shahid Ali, a carpenter based in Lahore, talking to TNS.
Shahid did not share his plans with his family as he would have to face a very strong reaction in that case. But, he says, they needed to be informed as he had no money left to buy air ticket to Lahore from Istanbul.
He says he had luckily secured his passport unlike many others whose passports had been shredded to pieces by the agents.
"The agents resort to such tactics in order to conceal the identity of the victims from border authorities of the countries falling en route. They allow the victims to use their passports only in Iran as they carry Iranian visas."
A Gujranwala based lawyer, Chaudhry Ashfaq Ahmed Advocate, tells TNS that the deportees are not getting instant relief as there's a huge backlog of human smuggling cases lying with the FIA. "For example, I know a lady who has been visiting the FIA office for months but her problem has not been addressed. She wants action against an agent who trapped her and even sold off her kidney."
There is an ongoing debate over the issue of declaring deportees victims of fraud rather than calling them partners in crime. There is a law called Prevention & Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance (P&CHTO) 2002 that gives protection to victims. But what needs to be clarified here is that trafficking is different from smuggling in a sense that the victims have no idea as to where they are being taken. On the other hand, in human smuggling, people pay the agents to take them to their preferred land of opportunities.
What happens on the return of the deportees is that they are taken into custody by FIA and released on payment of fines. They are granted bail and asked to appear as witnesses against the agents who lured them into this deadly game. However, relatives of some deportees who had gathered outside the FIA office in Gujranwala blamed the officials for detaining their relatives for long and pressurising them to strike a deal with the agents. Their assertion is that FIA protects agents more than the victims of their fraud.
An FIA official told TNS on conditions of anonymity that such charges were baseless. "They are levelled by people who try to falsely implicate others in human smuggling cases."
He said that this had been a common practice in the past, "People who wanted to settle monetary disputes with others would simply say that they had paid certain amount to them to settle down in some foreign country."
-- Shahzada Irfan Ahmed
There's an entire network of agents involved in smuggling people through Pakistan, Iran and Turkey to Greece
Gujrat, Gujranwala, Mandi Bahauddin and Sialkot districts are considered hubs of aspiring (illegal) immigrants to Europe and also of human traffickers in Pakistan. One can easily find an agent or a sub-agent who will be a part of the network involved in human smuggling from the region in every second locality/village of the area.
According to a Kharian-based agent, more than 100 different groups of human traffickers are working in the tehsil. The most popular destination for most people is Europe followed by Muscat and Oman. "These days, the rate of trafficking one person to Europe is Rs 0.5 million; for Oman it's only between Rs 40,000 and Rs 50,000 per person," he tells TNS, on condition of anonymity.
The journey to Oman is not quite fraught with danger and the people are transported via ship/boat from Gwadar or Pasni to Muscat. There is an entire network of agents working in Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Greec. "Majority of them are Pakistanis but they have good connections with security forces in the (above mentioned) countries," reveals the agent. "They also take locals with them.
"These agents are responsible for arranging for a safe transportation of the illegal immigrants to specified areas. In Iran, for instance, a majority of agents cover the whole country while in Turkey two or three different agents cover different areas for transportation of common people. They make sure that most of the distances are covered during night time. Besides, the areas that have security issues are covered on foot.
"In Turkey, the agents deliberately keep the people with them for months and extort money from their families in the name of food and shelter. Such as, they have men in Lahore who collect money from the families of the illegal immigrants. They collect in different spots of the city and contact people only through mobile phones. They never keep a mobile sim for more than two weeks. In addition, they charge per month and in US dollars only. Commonly, they demand $200 from a family back in Pakistan."
The agent also reveals that 90 percent of people cannot make it to Europe and are arrested on the way, in Pakistan, Iran or even Turkey. But those who succeed have to get their families to pay the rest of the money in two weeks' time. During this period, the smuggled person is forced to reside in the custody of an agent in Greece.
"Along with some genuine networks of agents there are a host of sham groups also working in the region. They have networks in Pakistan, Iran and Turkey but virtually no connections in Greece. Their sole purpose is to blackmail the families of the illegal immigrants to get more and more money.
"After they reach Iran, the agents keep the people in custody for another two weeks. During this period, they misinform the families of the people that the latter have been arrested and moolah is required to bail them out. This way alone they make hefty amounts. The same drama is repeated in Turkey. The poor people are left to themselves in Azmir from where a majority of them are arrested and deported to Pakistan."
-- A. Sahi