Monday May 27, 2024

US improves Pakistan’s ranking on human trafficking

By Umar Cheema
June 30, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The US State Department has revised upward the ranking of Pakistan after keeping it on the watchlist for consecutive four years due to its inadequate measures against human trafficking and migrant smuggling in and outside the country.

Until recently, there was no comprehensive law to either define trafficking/smuggling or punish those committing this offence. The parliament this year approved two laws in this regard shortly before the dissolution of the National Assembly. In addition, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has taken significant measures to arrest this trend, resulting in the revision of the country’s ranking.

Pakistan had been on tier-2 watch list until recently and further degradation into tier-3 could invoke US sanctions. Annual review of the State Department has though removed Pakistan from the watchlist, it is still on tier-2.

The ranking that is being carried out from 2011 onward shows that Pakistan has never gained enough score to qualify for tier-1 status which is reserved for the countries who fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking. Tier-2 is for the countries who though don’t meet the minimum standard, they are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance, whereas the watch list is comprised of the countries where the number of trafficking is significantly increasing.

In the case of Pakistan, this increase was largely attributed to the absence of proper legal framework which has been provided only a couple of months ago when two laws were passed: The Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act, 2018; and The Prevention of Smugglings of Migrants Act, 2018.

The legislation was pending for the last four years and Pakistan continued to remain on the watch list during the corresponding period. This might have delayed further had there not been the killing of 20 persons in Turbat who were there to cross over illegally to Iran for making their way onward to Europe through Turkey via Greece. Although they were targeted by terrorists, the tragedy highlighted the underlying menace of migrant smuggling and human trafficking. Serious efforts to carry out legislation for punishing smugglers were only made after this incident.

Meanwhile, a boat carrying illegal migrants from Libya to Italy capsized taking 31 lives; Pakistanis included. This further highlighted the risks that illegal migrants face. While Parliament passed the legislation, the Supreme Court constituted a committee to submit recommendations for arresting this menace of human smuggling which is the third most lucrative transnational organised crime after arms and drug trafficking estimated at 32 billion dollars per year and 27 million victims worldwide.

In 2017 alone, as many as 6,767 Pakistani migrants illegally entered into Europe via Iran and Turkey, according to FIA statistics. Gujranwala division is considered the hub of human smuggling with its district Gujrat the centre of such activities and surprisingly there was no FIA office until recently.

In the light of recommendations of three-member committee, the government authorised the setting up of a composite FIA circle in Gujrat in addition to the establishment of a special Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) comprising FIA, IB and Punjab Police to curb and prevent migrant smuggling from Central Punjab.

Meanwhile, Frontier Corps would coordinate for improving interception of intending migrants in the vicinity of Pak-Afghan border whereas passports of illegal migrants deported from other countries would be blacklisted for a specified time period.

Also, the FIA’s link offices in Iran and Greece have also been approved. The agency has also been authorised to maintain direct liaison with international functionaries posted in Pakistan and the relevant authorities abroad for information sharing on human smugglers. Earlier, the correspondence between the FIA and the foreign missions/organisations used to be routed through foreign office and the Interior Ministry.

A 30-day Provisional National Identification List (PNIL) of fugitives nominated in FIRs of heinous crimes was also regulated to bar them from flying in absence of their name on the ECL which is a time-consuming process.

Unlike the past when the State Department’s report would base on unofficial statistics, the FIA furnished its own data of traffickers and smugglers in addition to the steps taken by provincial governments in terms of prosecution and conviction of those involved in bonded labour, prostitution and child labour. The latest report is based on official data.