A RECENT report by the National Commission for Human Rights has revealed that over 80,000 Pakistanis were deported last year, over half from Saudi Arabia alone. The figure points to the unsettling scale of human smuggling and trafficking from the country, and includes a large number of women and children. Around 30,000 to 40,000 Pakistanis reportedly attempt illegal passage into Europe, the Middle East, Turkey and Russia through the border regions shared with Iran and Afghanistan. Others go for pilgrimage — but never return. They also attempt to travel to Australia through dangerous sea routes. Most of the victims of human smuggling are from the small towns and villages of Punjab, where agents with a vast network that extends to Tehran, Istanbul and the border regions of Greece operate and profit from human misery. While some are suffering from desperate poverty or belong to minority communities whose lives are threatened, others are fed false dreams of the wealth and freedom awaiting them in liberal societies by greedy and deceptive agents. Even if they survive the perilous routes by land and sea, what awaits them is usually further exploitation, language and culture barriers, and a lack of support groups. While human smuggling is undertaken by willing participants, human trafficking is a much darker tale and involves coercion of unsuspecting groups and individuals.
In interviews with some 50 Pakistanis caught in human smuggling or trafficking, the NCHR found disturbing trends that brings new information to light. For instance, some of the agents involved in these crimes are familiar with the routes as they themselves had taken the journey, tried to illegally cross over and failed at some point. Perhaps most disturbing was the revelation that young girls and women who had travelled to the Middle East in the hope of securing employment got trapped in prostitution rings. Last year, Pakistan passed two noteworthy laws that were drafted by the FIA, along with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, in line with international guidelines: The Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act and The Prevention of Smuggling of Migrants Act. These were lauded as an important step in securing rights for victims of human trafficking and smuggling, while empowering law-enforcement agencies to take action against the culprits. But structural issues remain and the law’s implementation leaves much to be desired.
Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2019