On October 1, 2019, Senate Standing Committee on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development, while being briefed on the issue of human trafficking, was informed that some 75,000 Pakistanis go illegally to Europe, USA and the Middle Eastern countries every year, dreaming to turn around their lives.
Sadly, there is no letup in the illegal trade over the years, rather human trafficking and smuggling is on the rise across the country, in particular in the garb of providing jobs abroad, in spite of government’s claims of its adopting measures to curb and control the crime. The situation reflects starkly on the ineffectiveness and laxity of the law enforcing agencies operating in Pakistan. The unscrupulous human traffickers exploit mostly the jobless youth promising them lucrative jobs abroad, and providing them with fake travel documents using various routes of land, air, and sea. But most of these victims or illegal immigrants eventually end up in prisons in Pakistan or in a foreign country, if somehow they survive the vagaries and miseries of insecure, dangerous, and illegal travel. On the other hand, the fake recruiting agents make easy money, flourish, and remain scot-free.
An overseas employment promoter in Peshawar recruited 25 young Pakistanis promising jobs of security guards in Dubai at a lucrative salary, housing, and other perks. The recruiting agent charged each Rs400,000 in advance, which mostly was arranged by the individuals by selling off family jewelry or a piece of land or borrowing a loan. When they arrived in Dubai they found out it was a fraud. There was no job, no accommodation, and nobody to take care of them in Dubai. They were arrested by the UAE government and were deported. The story is repeated time and again, though with different victims, different traffickers and in different locations. This may be unfortunate fallout of fast growing population and increasing unemployment in the country, but the question is: what is the government doing in this regard?
The government has recently suspended licenses of 65 overseas employment promoters who were involved in illegal immigration, while another 400 cases of illegal or fake travel and visa agents have been referred to the Federal Investigating Agency (FIA) for further investigations and action under the law, according to reports. There are 2,240 valid registered overseas employment promoters. Penalties imposed on them on illegal trade and other crimes are however minor, such as cancellation of license i.e. forfeiture of their security of Rs10,000, or suspension of license or warning or blacklisting.
In September alone, hundreds of Pakistanis were deported from Turkey and Germany. Among them, 140 Pakistanis coming from Turkey and another 24 from Germany had no travel documents and were arrested by the FIA at the domestic airports. Likewise, three from Dubai and eight from Saudi Arabia and Oman each were among the 30 deported persons, who did not have legal travel documents, and they ended up in jail in Pakistan. Not surprisingly, currently there are 50,248 illegal Pakistanis in Turkey, out of which 3,110 are in prisons there.
There is news in national media almost every month about arrest of hundreds of illegal immigrants. In August, 288 Pakistanis were deported from Turkey. Out of this as many as 159 had no travel record in Pakistan and were arrested on arrival. Another two Pakistanis deported from Greece and one from South Korea was put behind the bars on arriving in Pakistan. On August 9, two were arrested for travelling to Dubai on fake visa, while on August 10, FIA arrested another two persons bound to travel by air to France and UK on fake travel documents. Sixty, deported from Saudi Arabia, were arrested on July 1 as they were staying there illegally.
Another 27 deported from Germany were arrested on the same charges on July 23. One illegal Pakistani immigrant in Hong Kong was arrested on July 7. On July 1, 60 Pakistanis came back from Saudi Arabia for they were staying there illegally. In the month of June, the FIA arrested 54 illegal immigrants deported from Turkey, 52 coming from Muscat, 24 from Germany and four from Greece. Figures for Pakistanis travelling illegally to Europe by land route are rather flabbergasting in the backdrop of official reports that surfaced recently. A group of 86 persons was arrested on August 6, and another 72 Pakistanis on July 29, for illegally entering into Iran without travel documents, as they intended to go finally to a destination in Europe. Earlier, on June 10, Iran had handed over 98 illegal Pakistani immigrants to the authorities.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, as, unfortunately, the list of such fraudulent acts goes on and on, and extortion of money from the poor continues unabated. Fake visa and recruitment agents are seldom arrested. The last news was on June 2 when the FIA arrested nine human traffickers from Punjab. Seemingly, no serious action is ever being taken against the fraudsters under the relevant rules and regulations as they are politically connected and have corrupted the government officials too. Indeed, the fake visa and recruitment scam network is deep-rooted in Pakistan.
The Red Book of Most Wanted Human Smugglers & Traffickers 2019 issued by the FIA mentions 100 such persons who are absconding since long, some dating back to 2003 and 2004, but remain un-arrested so far. In 2018, this number was 112 out of which 19 were arrested but then another 7 traffickers were added to the list in 2019. These high-profile traffickers hail from all the provinces and AJK, though mostly from Gujrat, Gujranwala, Lahore, Faisalabad and Rawalpindi. Interestingly, in many cases that were registered during the period 2003-2019, dozens of FIRs have been registered against each of human traffickers.
Also, there are multiple cases against some of these criminals—175 cases against two ringleaders, for example. They are said to be connected to influential and political personalities in Pakistan as well as abroad, mostly having double nationality and multiple passports, and remain free in spite of issue of Interpol notices in some cases, whereas personal data including photographd of most of these 100 criminals, including five women, is available with the FIA since long.
The writer is retired chairman of State Engineering Corporation