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October 9, 2018

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Trading in humans

Trading in humans

In separate raids last week, FIA teams arrested 15 human smugglers in Faisalabad and Sialkot, stemming from the discovery of Rs6,400,000 with a smuggler originally from Lahore which had been collected from various people in lieu of the promise that they would be safely taken abroad. Such arrests are made periodically. But despite the promise made by successive governments, we have not really succeeded in getting to the root of the problem or bringing to justice the powerful individuals many believe are behind the hugely lucrative racket. Each year, 30,000 to 40,000 Pakistanis attempt to leave the country illegally. Many do so after paying agents who promise them safe passage and even jobs in the Middle East, Europe, the US or other destinations. Highly organised human smuggling gangs which operate mainly from Punjab are behind many of these operations. They bank on the desperation of people to build better futures for themselves and their children in a situation where unemployment is high and living costs for families almost unbearable. These gangs extract large sums of money from their victims, usually in exchange for passports, visas and travel. The US State Department identifies Pakistan as a nation of origin, destination and transit for the victims of human smuggling. This year, the country was moved up from tier 3 on the Department’s Annual Trafficking in Persons Report to tier 2, suggesting some improvement in the human smuggling situation. But this improvement, judging by the evidence available, is insufficient. Far more needs to be done to prevent the kind of tragedies we saw in February this year when 90 people perished after a boat carrying victims of human smugglers capsized off the coast of Libya. Most were Pakistanis.

Our authorities need to do much more to control human smuggling. This means tracking down on the gangs and their operations. But human smugglers, given the money involved, will continue to exploit people while their desperation to exit the country remains in place. The perception that there is no opportunity in Pakistan and that the only hope lies in getting out, – even if it means spending all the savings of a family or going into debt – is what has to be altered. Many individuals have also been exploited by human smugglers who extort money and then fail to deliver on their promises. More awareness needs to be created about keeping the guard high against smugglers who act at almost all tiers in society but most effectively take advantage of the poor. The FIA had set up a special wing to deal with the problem. We need to know why it has not been able to work with greater effect on those behind human smuggling mafias.

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