DESPITE attempts to check people smuggling, the FIA has failed to stop criminal networks from facilitating and profiting from this illegal trade. Disregarding the risks of drowning at sea or of indefinite detention, Pakistani migrants pay a hefty fee to travel through perilous land and sea routes to reach Europe. In January alone, 240 illegal Pakistani migrants, mostly young men, took the Mediterranean route to Italy, according to a report in this paper on Monday. Other reports have described yet another rescue off the coast of Libya involving a boat with 200 migrants, including Pakistanis. Narrating the dangers encountered by Pakistani migrants — such as being kidnapped for ransom or shot by Iranian border security — the report explains how and why most take the land route through Balochistan onward to Iran and Turkey to reach Europe. Increasing numbers of migrants from Pakistan on the central Mediterranean route demonstrates that the business of people smuggling thrives despite Europe’s curbs to keep migrants out. In February, the FIA proposed collaborating with authorities in Iran, Turkey and Greece to bust global trafficking networks. While this is an effective response, a precondition for effective action includes tackling smuggling networks at source. Cracking down on agents in Punjab, for instance, will send a clear message to offenders that preying on the poor comes with a prison sentence and a fine.
With an estimated 40,000 illegal Pakistani migrants travelling annually to Europe, this exodus is driven by poverty, religious persecution and violence; even militants joining the Syrian civil war have travelled these illegal routes. This trend, however, demonstrates that young men are so desperate that even though the likelihood of dying while trying to reach Europe is alarmingly high, they will risk their lives. When young men resort to such extreme measures it is a damning indictment of a leadership that has only offered empty platitudes to its young people instead of education and economic security.
Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2018