SIALKOT: Haider Ali and two of his closest friends set out from their village three weeks ago with dreams of starting a new life in a European country.
They first travelled to Lahore and then to Quetta, where they were joined by other young men who were going to undertake the perilous journey together. A Quetta-based human trafficker received them there and, after blind-folding them, piled them up in a container-like heavy vehicle and took them to an unidentified location on the outskirts of Quetta city, recalls Haider Ali, the sole survivor of the massacre in the Buleda area of Turbat, Balochistan, last week.
Ali, 16, was finally reunited with his family in Jethikey village in Sambrial tehsil of Sialkot district on Monday. Sharing details of the ordeal he and his friends Abu Bakar, 17, and Majid, 16, had faced, Ali says that the trafficker, named Muhammad Sadiq, had taken them to a dera they referred to as “safe haven”.
“We were treated like animals,” Ali says, adding that the young men hailed from small villages and towns in Sialkot, Narowal, Gujrat, Mandi Bahauddin, Hafizabad and Gujranwala districts. They had been told that they would first enter Iran and from there, head towards Turkey, Greece or other European countries.
Some of the young men had not paid the traffickers any money, says Ali. The traffickers had offered them a “free-of-cost” package that allowed them to make the payments after they arrived at their intended destination. This offer had sounded very generous to these young men, who had jumped at the chance to build a new life abroad, he says.
The journey was beset with travail from the very start as, Ali recalls, they had had to walk for a part of the journey on foot for several kilometres, traversing mountains and hilly areas towards the Pak-Iran Border. “Our feet swelled up and some of us were unable to take another step forward but if we complained about the journey, or asked for a sip of water or even to rest, the traffickers and their agents and sub-agents beat us up badly,” he says.
At one point, Ali had stopped to relieve himself, but the vehicles they had been travelling in left without him. The dismay of finding himself abandoned quickly turned into horror as a distant sound of intense firing rent the night sky. The ones travelling in the vehicles had been gunned down and their bodies were dumped in the hills.
Ali says that he ran for the rest of the night, through mountains and hilly terrain, till he arrived at Panjgur, where a Pashtun tea stall owner helped him. Ali says the man had fed him food and gave him money to travel to Quetta.
Ali appears to be in a state of shock and fear over the tragic deaths of his friends, but his father Muhammad Aslam, 65, believes that his family has been greatly blessed by the Almighty because his son had returned home safely.
“I have learned a lot of lessons, including that we should remain in our own homeland and struggle here for a better future...going abroad illegally is not an easy game...it’s like a game of death...I lost two of my closest friends,” says a fearful Ali, adding that the agents, sub-agents and traffickers who had encouraged them to leave the country were cruel people. He requested the government to take strict action against trafficking, explaining that it was easy for poor people to fall for lies and dreams of financial stability and a bright future which the traffickers promised.
“I am back home alive but I’m in a very miserable condition...I have been dying at every moment because of the loss of my beloved friends,” he says.
Ali has six siblings, and being the eldest, he had wanted to share the financial burden of his poor family. “Our son is our wealth, we will never try to send him abroad,” his grieving parents now say.
On Monday, neighbours, family and friends descended on Ali’s house to welcome him. They had only found out a few days ago that he had survived the Buleda massacre, when he called his parents and talked to them.
FIA arrests ‘traffickers’
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) claimed to have arrested six land route agents in the Gujranwala region who were involved in booking and handling the passage of 10 men from Gujrat and Mandi Bahaudin districts who were later killed by unidentified gunmen in Turbat.
Gujrat Circle FIA Assistant Director Chaudhary Muhammad Sarwar told reporters at a news conference that Tanveer Cheema Chroma of Jamke Chatha in Gujranwala, Abid Waheed of Phalia in Mandi Bahaudin, Sohail Shakil of Kunjah and Jumma Khan alias Musa had been arrested on the charges of trafficking six young men from Gujrat and four men from Mandi Bahauddin districts, who were killed in the Turbat massacre.
He said three different cases had been registered against the suspects.
The alleged human traffickers were later produced before the court of area Magistrate Naveed Mangat, who handed over them to the FIA on physical remand of two days.
The FIA is still looking for Sajjad of Khori Rasoolpur, who had taken Rs160,000 each from five friends from Gujrat with the promise of safe passage to Turkey via Iran.
Published in Dawn, November 21st, 2017