Traffickers are one aspect of a lucrative criminal racket which extends to highest corridors of power

Human smuggling is a national shame, with thousands of desperate Pakistanis every year risking life and limb and their hard-earned money for a chance at a better future.


June 22, 2023

ISLAMABAD – ALL sound and fury signifying nothing. That, in a nutshell, is how best to describe the storm of condemnation by the government and the anti-human smuggling operations taking place in the country, thousands of miles from the watery grave where so many, possibly hundreds, of Pakistanis met their deaths last week.

The FIA has swung into action and several traffickers allegedly involved in human smuggling have been arrested in the country.

Yesterday, Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah promised that the investigation into the catastrophe that struck the overloaded fishing trawler off the Greek coast would be completed within a week.

The ill-fated vessel was carrying at least 800 people, including reportedly 400 Pakistanis, when it capsized in the Mediterranean Sea. Only 104 people are known to have survived, with virtually no chance of finding more survivors. Bodies of around 80 have been retrieved from the water, as anguished relatives wait for news, hoping at the very least for a chance to provide a burial for their loved ones.

Unfortunately, it is only the scale of the latest tragedy that has sparked this flurry of activity, the need to be seen as doing something. Human smuggling is a national shame, with thousands of desperate Pakistanis every year risking life and limb and their hard-earned money to reach Europe for a chance at a better future. Some undertake to go to their chosen destinations via Balochistan, Iran and Turkiye.

Suffering hunger and thirst, dodging bullets from border patrols, many die on the way; some are kidnapped for ransom by criminal gangs in Iran and Turkiye. Another means of illegal passage is the ‘Libyan route’ which entails crossing the Mediterranean under incredibly dangerous and squalid circumstances.

And all this happens under the very nose of the authorities: the various routes and modus operandi have even been reported on ad nauseam in the media. For, while it is an organised crime on a global scale, every ‘national’ component of migrant smuggling is sustained by an elaborate network with multiple stakeholders.

Traffickers are but one aspect of this lucrative criminal racket whose tentacles extend into the highest corridors of power. And yet, when has anyone of consequence been charged, let alone been punished, for complicity?

And it is that ruling elite of this country that is responsible for collectively creating such a loss of hope that it is driving young people out of Pakistan on treacherous journeys towards greener pastures, no matter the hellish experiences they must endure to reach them.

Consider that on the trawler that capsized in the Mediterranean last week, the Pakistanis were reportedly forced to occupy the hold — the most dangerous part of the vessel — and singled out for maltreatment. Unless every aspect of this racket is stamped out, human smuggling from Pakistan will continue to thrive.

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