ISLAMABAD: Travel Agents Association of Pakistan (TAAP) has alleged that the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is harassing its members by involving them in human smuggling cases.
Addressing a press conference on Monday, the members of TAAP’s executive committee warned they would shut down their businesses all over the country if the FIA did not stop its operation.
Over 100,000 people are engaged in this business and earning livelihoods for their families.
The FIA are arresting travel agents and their staff, although they hold licences to operate a business, Raja Saleem, a member of the TAAP executive committee, said.
A large number of deportees from the European countries were interrogated by FIA recently, which led to the identification of human smugglers and their arrests.
When the agency started the operation against the smugglers, it also arrested the travel agents, he alleged.
“There is a difference between a travel agent and a human smuggler, as the agent is working under a license, whereas the smugglers sent people abroad illegally through different routes,” he added.
However, “the travel agents and their staff are being arrested for keeping travelers passports, which is a crime under the law”, he said.
But the travel agents had to keep their passports for arranging visas or tickets, he added.
“For the last 10 years, only the travel agents have been allowed to arrange Umrah visas, and in this regard passports of the pilgrims are in possession of the agents,” he said, adding they cannot apply for visa directly to embassy.
The FIA action against the travel agents will deprive pilgrims of Umrah in the month of Rabiul Awwal, he added.
The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has amended Passport and Tourism Act under which travel agents can possess the passport after ascertaining the reason for travel abroad from its holder, he said, adding but the same law was not available in Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan and Islamabad.
But even in the KP the FIA did not spare travel agents and arrested them for keeping the passport, though they have a ruling of the Peshawar High Court (PHC) in their favour which it gave in 2005 allowing them (travel agents) to keep the passports for visas.
“We will move a contempt of court petition against the FIA in the PHC,” he added.
Besides arresting and harassing the travel agents, the investigation agency is making ‘unjust demands’, he alleged.
“We are travel agents and not human smugglers,” he emphatically said, and demanded that FIA should stop operation against them.
Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2015