Unanswered questions

Greek authorities have confirmed 15 Pakistanis among 78 bodies recovered following the recent boat disaster off the Greek coast. The incident involved an overcrowded trawler, with up to 750 people on board as per reports, capsizing off the coast of Greece; it is believed that more than 350 Pakistanis were onboard the migrant boat. People from Egypt and Syria were also on the boat and almost all of them are believed to have drowned as there were only 104 survivors. The identification of the bodies was done with the aid of fingerprint matching and DNA evidence. Reports say that 89 families from Pakistan had submitted their DNA samples, hoping to learn if their families were on the boat. However, the spokesperson pointed out that this does not confirm if the bodies identified were actually on the boat in question. That being said, it is highly unlikely that they were not. Furthermore, the FIA has arrested 41 human traffickers in the wake of the incident and announced that those involved would be charged under the Anti-Money Laundering Act. It has also called for the bank accounts of the agents connected to the incident to be frozen.

While it is good to see the authorities taking steps to ensure those involved in the tragic deaths of so many citizens are brought to book, we are still yet to see much in the way of measures or policies to counteract human trafficking and smuggling on a more proactive basis. There is also little news on what is being done about the international arm of the smuggling network responsible and to what extent we are working with law-enforcement agencies abroad to bring to book all those responsible. Who brought in and kept Pakistani migrants in Libya and how are they connected to our country? There is also the matter of how so many migrants were taken out of Pakistan in the first place. What were the loopholes in our documentation and travel system that were exploited?

The Greek boat tragedy is not the first instance of our people dying in large numbers at the hands of human smugglers nor will it be the last if making arrests after would-be migrants die is the only policy we have to rely on. For starters, our institutions must try to get a handle as to the exact scope of the human smuggling problem in Pakistan. Given the frequency with which reports have emerged of Pakistanis being illegally smuggled into Europe in recent years, it is quite possible that the problem has reached an industrial scale. We need to identify how traffickers and smugglers operate, what loopholes they exploit, how people are smuggled out of the country and what are the factors leading people to rely on these traffickers in the first place. Unless we develop a strategy that covers these issues, we will see more deaths in the future.

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