Authorities vowed the 10 suspected human traffickers they arrested would be ‘severely punished’.
Pakistan authorities have arrested 10 alleged human traffickers after it emerged that many of the dozens of migrants and refugees who drowned off the coast of Greece were from the South Asian nation currently in the midst of an unprecedented economic and political crisis, officials said on Sunday.
Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also ordered an immediate crackdown on agents engaged in people smuggling, saying they would be “severely punished”.
The federal investigation agency arrested the suspected human traffickers from different parts of the Islamabad-controlled part of Kashmir – also known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir – and another from Karachi airport, who was trying to flee abroad, local TV Geo News reported.
At least dozens of Pakistani nationals onboard
Every year, thousands of young Pakistanis embark on perilous journeys attempting to enter Europe without proper documents in search of a better life.
Reports indicate there were at least dozens of Pakistanis onboard the trawler that sank off Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula on Wednesday, killing at least 78 people with hundreds more missing.
Young men, primarily from eastern Punjab and northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, often use a route through Iran, Libya, Turkey, and Greece to enter Europe.
Local media published estimates that 298 Pakistanis might have died in the Greek boat disaster, 135 from the Pakistani side of Kashmir. Other reports suggested there were about 400 Pakistani nationals onboard. Al Jazeera could not independently verify these numbers.
Human trafficking seems to be going on with impunity in #Pakistan. Apparently nearly 400 people on board in boat carrying refugees to Greece were from Pakistan with more than 298 reported dead. The appalling conditions in which people were transported, resulting in the tragic… pic.twitter.com/2brFP4Inj4
— Nafisa Shah (@ShahNafisa) June 18, 2023
On Saturday, Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said 12 nationals had survived, but they had no information on how many were onboard the boat.
An immigration official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the figure could surpass 200.
In a joint statement, the International Organization for Migration and UN Refugee Agency said between 400 to 750 people in total were believed to be aboard the ferry.
DNA-matching needed to identify deceased
The 10 suspected human traffickers “are presently under investigation for their involvement in facilitating the entire process,” said Chaudhary Shaukat, a local official from Pakistan-administered Kashmir.
“The Prime Minister has given a firm directive to intensify efforts in combating individuals involved in the heinous crime of human trafficking,” his office said in a statement.
The foreign ministry spokesperson, Mumtaz Zahra Baloch, said in a statement that Pakistan’s embassy in Greece remains in contact with the Greek authorities to identify the 78 recovered bodies.
“At this stage, we are unable to verify the number and identity of Pakistani nationals among the deceased,” she said, adding that the identification process will take place through DNA-matching.