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Pakistan arrests suspected smugglers after refugee boat tragedy

Authorities have vowed that the 10 suspected human traffickers they arrested will be ‘severely punished’.

Pakistani authorities have arrested 10 alleged human traffickers after it emerged that dozens of migrants and refugees who drowned off the coast of Greece were mostly from the South Asian country currently in an unprecedented economic and political crisis, officials said Sunday.

Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif also ordered an immediate crackdown on agents involved in people smuggling, saying they would be “severely punished”.

The Federal Investigation Agency has arrested suspected human traffickers from different parts of the Islamabad-controlled part of Kashmir – also known as Azad Jammu and Kashmir – and another from the Karachi airport, who were trying to flee abroad, local TV Geo News reported.

Interactive - Refugee Boat Greece_edit-1686920813

At least a dozen Pakistani nationals were on board

Every year, thousands of young Pakistanis embark on the perilous journey to Europe without proper documentation in search of a better life.

Reports indicate that at least a dozen Pakistanis were aboard the trawler that sank off Greece’s Peloponnese peninsula on Wednesday, killing at least 78 people and leaving hundreds more missing.

The youth, primarily from eastern Punjab and northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, often use a route through Iran, Libya, Turkey and Greece to enter Europe.

Local media estimate that 298 Pakistanis may have died in the Greek boat disaster, 135 on the Pakistani side of Kashmir. Other reports said that the ship was carrying around 400 Pakistani nationals. Al Jazeera could not independently verify these numbers.

On Saturday, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said 12 nationals had survived, but had no information on how many were on the boat.

An immigration official told AFP on condition of anonymity that the number could exceed 200.

In a joint statement, the International Organization for Migration and the UN Refugee Agency said a total of 400 to 750 people were believed to be on board the ferry.

Greece boat
Adil Hussain from Pakistan shows a photo of his brother who he says was on the ship that sank off the coast of Greece. June 16, 2023 [Louiza Vradi/Reuters]

DNA-matching is needed to identify the dead

Chaudhary Shawkat, a local official in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, said 10 suspected human traffickers “are currently under investigation for their involvement in facilitating the whole process.”

“The prime minister has given firm instructions to strengthen efforts to combat those involved in the heinous crime of human trafficking,” his office said in a statement.

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said in a statement that Pakistan’s embassy in Greece is in touch with 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 dead,” he said, adding that the identification process would be done through DNA-matching.

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