• Move follows busting of human smuggling network in Romania
• Air route through Central Asia becoming increasingly popular

LAHORE: Dismantling of a Pakistani human smuggling network in Romania recently has prompted the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) to expand its efforts against the menace as it will now be checking misuse of work visas for European countries in collaboration with the Bureau of Emigration & Overseas Employment.

According to the Europol, police last month busted an organised crime group involved in migrants’ smuggling.

The group arranged the illegal arrival in Romania of migrants via fraudulently obtained work visas, with plans to facilitate their further illegal movements towards other EU countries.

The criminal network facilitated the illegal entry of Bangladeshi, Egyptian and Pakistani nationals into the EU through fraudulent work visas.

“We will launch probe once we receive details of this scam from Europol,” a senior FIA officer told Dawn.

He said the group of Pakistanis that reached Romania must have paid either to the Overseas Employment Promoters (OEPs) or some consultancy firm(s) for arranging their travel to Romania through work visa.

Another official told Dawn that OEPs would usually send Pakistanis on work visa to Romania like other destinations. “Since the work visa charges are not much for Romania, close to $4,000, some individuals associated with the companies out there in collaboration with the promotors here had started making handsome money by transporting aspirants to various European destinations.

Such aspirants after reaching Romania would slip into Austria, France, Italy, or some other destinations in western Europe, he added. “The FIA needs to collaborate with the Bureau of Emigration & Overseas Employment to check misuse of work visas for Romania especially and other such destinations.”

A good number of Pakistanis during the last two years had moved out to Europe on work visa.

An immigration consultant told Dawn that work visa rate for European destinations, especially the UK, had been doubled during the last two years. “In such an upsurge in the demand of work visa, the element of fraud or exploitation by human smugglers and dubious consultancy firms cannot be ruled out,” he said.

Emerging air route

Besides, the FIA has also started focusing on the air routes that human smugglers are exploring to transport aspirants to Europe.

“Human smugglers are also using air routes such as from Libya and Central Asia to transport aspirants to Europe. Of late, human smugglers have started taking the aspirants to Central Asia from where they transport them to Europe after charging them handsomely,” the official said.

The FIA official agreed that the land route, especially from Quetta to Iran, Turkey and Greece, had been frequently used by human smugglers, but said that the air route of Central Asia is now picking up.

Europol Report

According to the Europol report, 12 persons were arrested last month in Romania.

“The criminal network was composed mainly of Romanian and Pakistani nationals, who had established companies in Romania. The suspects allegedly brought Bengali, Egyptian and Pakistani nationals to Romania with work visas, fraudulently obtained by misleading the competent authorities. The investigation identified other Romanian companies, managed by Romanian nationals cooperating with the criminal network, which were also used for fraudulently acquiring work permits and visas.”

The criminal network requested 509 work permits in total from Romania and acquired permits for 102 migrants. “The migrants used these fraudulently obtained visas to illegally enter Romania. Investigative leads suggest that 76 migrants who arrived in Romania using these fraudulent documents have then made secondary movements to other EU countries. During the investigation, 26 migrants were detected in Romania, Italy and Austria. The criminal network charged between EUR5,000 and EUR6,000 per person to arrange the arrival to Romania and another EUR2,000 to EUR5,000 per migrant for the secondary movement to another EU country. The criminal network is believed to have gained at least EUR1 million illegal profits.”

The report says members of the network based in Pakistan were responsible for the local recruitment of migrants who wanted to reach the EU. “Other members of the criminal network arranged the accommodation of migrants in different locations in Brasov and Bucharest before further transporting them to the area of Timisoara. From there, other accomplices picked up the migrants and transported [them] to the Romanian-Hungarian border, where the migrants illegally crossed green borders on foot or hidden in various means of transport. National authorities detected a number of migrants smuggled by this network while they were crossing the borders or directly in the territory of other EU states, mostly in Italy and Austria. In one of the cases in Italy, the Italian authorities detected 45 irregular migrants on foot along the Italian-Slovenian border.”

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2024

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