The Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) immigration wing on Thursday arrested in Karachi an alleged human smuggler, who the authorities said had been involved in smuggling people to Libya, including those who had died in a shipwreck earlier this year.
The FIA said in a statement that the suspect was trying to escape to Azerbaijan on an international flight when he was arrested, adding that he had been in hiding for months. He was offloaded from his scheduled flight and taken into custody, the FIA said.
The statement added a case against the suspect was registered at the FIA Anti-Human Trafficking Circle, Gujrat and he had been handed over to the authorities there following his arrest,
There have been two notable incidents of boats drowning off the coast of Libya in the Mediterranean Sea this year in which several Pakistanis had lost their lives. The first incident took place in February and the other in April, but the authorities are yet to specify in which case the latest arrest has been made.
Dawn.com has approached the FIA to get clarity on the matter.
The arrest comes merely days after another tragic shipwreck off Greece, in which several Pakistanis are feared dead.
On Wednesday, an overloaded boat — with around 750 people on board according to a European rescue support charity — sank in open seas off Greece.
As a painstaking search for survivors continued, 104 people were found alive, with 12 Pakistanis among them, the Foreign Office (FO) confirmed today.
In a tweet, it said, “At this stage, we are unable to verify the number and identity of Pakistani nationals among the deceased.
“The Pakistan Embassy in Greece remains in contact with local authorities for the identification and recovery of Pakistani nationals,” the FO added.
Meanwhile, in a statement, the Pakistan Embassy in Greece requested Pakistanis who feared their relatives to be on the capsized boat to send DNA samples for the identification of the bodies.
A short tandem repeat (STR) DNA report of the parents or children of the missing person from a recognised laboratory, along with the missing person’s identity card or passport number should be sent to the Embassy’s email address, the statement added.
NA speaker seeks immediate probe
Meanwhile, National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf urged the government to “immediately investigate” the capsizing of a fishing boat earlier this week that killed at least 78 people, with Pakistanis feared to be among the dead.
Convening a session of the National Assembly today, Speaker Ashraf said, “I think this is an extremely reprehensible act in which innocent people are made to face such situations by deceiving them of taking them abroad.”
He went on to urge the government to “take immediate notice and action” on the matter, adding that those involved in the “heinous act should be given an exemplary punishment” so that such a crime does not take place in the future.
The NA speaker’s statement came in response to MNA Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali’s concerns over the matter.
Speaking on the National Assembly floor, MNA Chitrali said that reports had been circulating in the media that 310 Pakistanis had drowned in the incident.
“According to eyewitnesses, only 18 people [out of those] could be saved,” he said.
The Jamaat-i-Islami leader demanded that a report be produced that would include the details of those missing and who the human smugglers behind this were.
“Why isn’t action taken against them (smugglers) and why is the foreign ministry still failing in this?”
“Such incidents are extremely dangerous for the country. What are our agencies doing? There are 25-26 agencies,” he questioned.
Separately, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif said his “thoughts and prayers” were with the families of the deceased.
Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari also extended his condolences to those who lost relatives in the accident.
Many from Azad Kashmir among the deceased, missing
The UN’s International Organisation for Migration (IOM) said that according to various testimonies, the boat was believed to have somewhere between 400 and 750 people on board.
News portals Proto Thema and Skai TV had reported that, according to witnesses, mainly women and children were in the vessel’s hold.
According to several accounts, several people from different areas of Azad Kashmir were feared to be among the deceased or missing.
Muhammad Mubashir from the Kotli area of Azad Kashmir told BBC Urdu that his uncle and a close relative left for Italy after Ramazan.
They planned to reach Libya from Pakistan and then Italy, said Mubashir, adding that he had been unable to contact his relative in Libya for the past two days.
He added that a number of people from the Kel sector in Kotli left in recent months in hopes of reaching Europe.
A British-Pakistani journalist, Raja Faryad Khan, told BBC that 16 people from his village in Azad Kashmir could have been on the boat.
]Khan travelled from the UK to the Greek port city of Kalamata to meet his 22-year-old nephew Adnan Bashir, who was one of the survivors.
Another man from Kotli, Maqsood Langrial, told BBC that his five close relatives and two dozen other people from his area are feared to be on the boat.
He said two men from his village who survived the crash have said that around 30 people from the area were on board.
One survivor also told doctors in Kalamata that he had seen 100 children in the boat’s hold, broadcaster ERT reported.
Police on Thursday arrested nine Egyptians on suspicion of people smuggling — one of them the captain of the boat carrying the migrants.
The events leading up to the tragedy were still unclear with Greek coastguard and government officials saying their patrol boats and nearby cargo ships had been shadowing the fishing boat since Tuesday afternoon, after it was spotted by a surveillance plane from Europe’s Frontex agency.
They said the trawler had briefly stopped to take on food and water, but that a person on board insisted that no further assistance was needed and that those on board wished to continue their journey to Italy, AFP reported.
At 10:40pm GMT, the trawler notified Athens of engine failure. The nearby patrol boat “immediately tried to approach the trawler to determine the problem,” the coastguard said.
Twenty-four minutes later, the Greek patrol boat skipper radioed in that the boat had capsized. It sank within 15 minutes at 2:19am Greek time.
However, there are mounting questions as to whether the Greek coastguard should have intervened earlier to escort the aged trawler — clearly packed with people — to safety.
There are also claims that the coastguard had attempted to drag it at excessive speed with the help of a rope. Government spokesman Ilias Siakantaris confirmed Friday that a rope was thrown to “stabilise” the boat, but the migrants refused help.
Amid despair and pain, a Syrian teenager who survived the wreck was emotionally reunited with his elder brother on Friday.
Mohammad, 18, from Syria, burst into sobs as he spotted his elder brother Fadi, who had travelled from the Netherlands searching for him.
They wept and hugged through metal barricades, erected by Greek police around a warehouse in Kalamata where survivors had been sleeping for the past two days.
The IOM and the UN Human Rights Office have urged the world to address the gaps in search and rescue rules, Reuters reported.
“It is clear that the current approach to the Mediterranean is unworkable,” said IOM’s Federico Soda.
Jeremy Laurence, the UN Human Rights Office spokesperson, said the tragedy “underscores the need to investigate people smugglers and human traffickers and ensure they are brought to justice”.