Islamabad, Pakistan – Pakistan is observing a day of mourning after hundreds of its nationals are feared to have died when a refugee boat sank off Greece last week in one of the worst disasters of its kind.
Survivors said more than a hundred Pakistanis along with dozens of Egyptians, Syrians and Palestinians were among an estimated 750 people, according to media reports, onboard the fishing trawler on their way to Europe when the vessel sank on Wednesday off the Peloponnese peninsula.
Keep readinglist of 4 items
So far, nearly 100 people have been rescued and 78 bodies have been retrieved from the sea, according to rescue officials. Pakistan’s foreign ministry said at least 12 Pakistanis were among those rescued.
The International Organization for Migration and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said on Saturday that while the number of people on the boat was unclear, various testimonies put the figure between 400 and 750.
On Sunday, Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif announced a national day of mourning on Monday. He ordered the formation of a high-level committee to investigate the incident.
Authorities have made more than a dozen arrests of alleged human traffickers, who charge millions of rupees (thousands of dollars) to send citizens outside Pakistan.
The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) said it arrested three suspected traffickers over the weekend, including a key suspect identified as Sajid Mehmood.
Mehmood was arrested on Friday night from Karachi airport while he was trying to flee the country, an FIA official told Al Jazeera on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
“This is an important breakthrough,” the official said.
Officials in Pakistan-administered Kashmir said they have arrested 10 suspected human traffickers so far in relation to the case.
Chaudhry Shaukat Ali, a senior official in the region, told Al Jazeera at least 23 of those missing in the sinking were from Kashmir’s Kotli district.
In the first three months of 2023, more than 400 refugees drowned in the central Mediterranean, according to rescue agencies.
In a report released in April, the UNHCR said that figure made it the deadliest quarter since 2017 on the world’s most dangerous refugee crossing. It said the figure is potentially an undercount.