ISLAMABAD: The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has been tasked to stop misuse of 1,000 Schengen visa stickers stolen from the Italian Embassy in Islamabad.
The Italian Embassy has informed the foreign ministry about the theft of visa stickers, which are valid for travelling to any of the 26 Schengen states in Europe. The region mostly functions as a single jurisdiction for international travel purposes with a common visa policy.
The foreign ministry in a letter to the interior ministry has said: “The Embassy of Italy in Islamabad has informed that 1,000 Schengen visa stickers had been stolen from the Embassy’s locker room. From these visa stickers, 750 visa stickers had numbers from ITA041913251 to ITA041914000 and 250 visa stickers had numbers from ITA041915751 to ITA041916000. The Italian authorities are conducting internal investigations to fix the responsibility.”
The foreign ministry requested the interior ministry and the FIA “to keep track of these visa stickers at all entry and exit points and report any seizure to this [foreign] ministry”.
The interior ministry has referred the matter to the FIA headquarters.
Sources in FIA told Dawn that the “FIA’s role will be just to stop misuse of these visa stickers by entering their numbers in our system”.
As far as investigation into theft of visa stickers is concerned, it is the domain of local police station, the sources said.
However, the police had not received any complaint either from the embassy or from the interior ministry for lodging the First Information Report (FIR) of the theft till the filing of this report.
According to the sources, FIA’s system installed at airports can detect the holder of stolen visa whenever he/she would try to use it to fly to Italy or anywhere in the Schengen region.
The sources did not rule out involvement of an organised network of human traffickers in the theft since they sell the visa stickers.
An official working for a private overseas employment company said it was a multi-billion-rupee scam because the price of a Schengen visa starts from Rs2 million and some people may even be willing to pay up to Rs4m for it.
An FIA official said there are organised rackets and small groups of people who smuggle thousands of desperate men, women and children abroad every year. The FIA Red Book lists around 112 “most wanted traffickers”.
The Red Book contains names of most wanted terrorists and criminals involved in the drug trade, fraud, money laundering, human trafficking and other such illegal activities.
Most of these wanted traffickers belong to Central Punjab, while a sizeable number of these criminals hail from Sindh, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan and Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
The sources expressed apprehensions that the traffickers may already have sent a number of aspirants to the Schengen states through stolen visa stickers.
The Italian Embassy normally issues visas through FedEx, but it has closed the visa facility for more than a year due to Covid-19.
The Foreign Office confirmed receipt of the complaint, but did not disclose the name of the embassy. FO spokesman Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri said in a statement that “the issue of the theft of visa stickers was reported to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs by a foreign diplomatic mission in Islamabad. The information was immediately shared with the concerned authorities for taking appropriate action in this regard.”
Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2021