‘Heinous crime’: Pakistan makes arrests after Greece boat tragedy

Authorities vowed the 10 suspected human traffickers they arrested would be ‘severely punished’.

Migrants rest in a shelter in Kalamata
Rescued migrants and refugees rest in a shelter following a rescue operation in Kalamata, Greece [Stelios Misinas/Reuters]

Pakistan authorities have arrested 10 alleged human traffickers after it emerged that many of the dozens of migrants and refugees who drowned off Greece’s coast on June 14 were from the South Asian nation.

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

“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 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.

Senior officer Khalid Chauhan said police picked up the suspects amid a crackdown on human traffickers. Police are interrogating them for their alleged roles in luring, trapping and sending locals abroad after extracting huge amounts of money from them.

The 10 suspected traffickers “are presently under investigation for their involvement in facilitating the entire process”, said Chaudhary Shaukat, a local official from Pakistan-administered Kashmir.


Dozens of Pakistanis aboard

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 still missing.

As many as 750 men, women and children – also from Syria, Egypt, and the Palestinian territories – were on board the vessel, trying to reach relatives in Europe. The sinking was one of the worst disasters of its kind this year. The Greek coast guard has defended its response to the tragedy.

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

People have been offering their support to relatives of those presumed to have been on the boat.

Raja Sakundar, of Bindian village in Kotli district of Azad Kashmir, said his four nephews aged 18 to 36 remain missing.

“We were informed by the media [of the tragedy]. When children are not found or die, you can understand what a parent goes through,” he said.

Raja Muhammad Majeed asked the Pakistani government to bring back his nephew, Raja Awais.

“If he is dead, bring back [the] body,” he said. “When we bury him here, his mother, sisters and others can go to his grave and offer prayers. We will be patient.”

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.

Prime Minister Sharif on Sunday declared a national day of mourning for citizens who died. He expressed his grief over the tragedy and said the national flag will fly at half-staff on Monday.

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.

greece boat
Adil Hussain from Pakistan shows a photo of his brother, who he says was onboard the ship that sunk off the coast of Greece [Louiza Vradi/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies