Illegal migration from Pakistan towards Europe is a decades old phenomenon. Recent efforts to curb the flow have shown encouraging results, but experts believe that the long-term solution lies in providing legal avenues for migration.
The recent killing of migrants in Pakistan’s western Baluchistan province has once again highlighted the perils of illegal migration. Fifteen bullet ridden bodies were found on November 15 in Kech district. The bodies were of people from different parts of the eastern Punjab province, who were headed to Europe to look for work. Two days later, five more bodies were found. Investigations showed that all of them were shot dead by terrorists.
Illegal migration, helped by a network of human smugglers, is a decades old phenomenon in Pakistan. Throughout the 60s, 70s and the 80s, people from central Punjab migrated to different parts of Europe, profiting from lax policies and a demand for labor in a region that focused on rebuilding after the second World War. In Pakistani cities such as Mandi Bahauddin, Gujranwala, Gujrat and Sialkot, almost every household has one or more of its members in a European country.
A gathering of the International Centre for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD) in Baku, Azerbaijan earlier this year, declared Pakistan as a major source of transit and destination for human trafficking. The US State Department, in its annual report for 2017, placed Pakistan in the second highest tier of human trafficking for the second consecutive year. The country belongs to the group of states, where governments have not been able to fully meet the Trafficking Victims Protection Act’s (TVPA) minimum standards, but are making significant efforts to bring themselves into compliance with the standards.
Most of the migrants killed in Baluchistan last month hailed from Gujranwala, a city with almost five million residents, located approximately 70 kilometers north-west of Lahore. The main suspect, Sohail S., was soon arrested along with two others. They were charged with facilitating illegal journeys to Germany via Iran. According to local media, the main suspect’s brother, Humayun S., is based in Germany and was also part of the network.
Despite efforts from the European Union, human smuggling networks continue to operate – be it in the Balkan States, Libya, Afghanistan, Iran or Pakistan.
‘Human smuggling’ is a multi faceted problem
Zia Awan is a Pakistani lawyer and an expert on human trafficking and human smuggling in the region. He said to InfoMigrants that the incident in Balochistan was unfortunate and dangerous at the same time because terrorists were involved. According to him, the smugglers left the migrants in a situation which lead to their killing and thus are to be blamed equally. The veteran lawyer said that thousands of such smugglers operate in Pakistan. “The bigger issue is that it is a multi faceted problem which exists in many forms and variations”, he added.
Awan believes that in order to curb the smuggling of humans, it is essential that the countries which have a demand for labor participate more actively. According to him, mere law enforcement will not do the job. He further added: “international agencies are supporting Pakistan in many areas, but there is absolutely no assistance in combatting human trafficking and human smuggling.” According to the lawyer, Pakistan requires assistance in spreading awareness, helping out the related law enforcement agencies and in engaging the civil society to deal with the menace of human smuggling.
Human smuggling on the decline in Pakistan
Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency’s (FIA) Director Immigration, Tariq Malik, said last month that human smuggling has significantly decreased in Pakistan this year though he did not provide any statistics to back his claim. Speaking to local media, he said, “there are several factors contributing to this decline including strict law enforcement by the authorities, less financial incentives for the smugglers owing to stringent measures by European countries and improved international coordination to combat the issue.”
The agency has nabbed 326 land route agents/smugglers this year for helping illegal immigrants cross the border with Iran for their ultimate entry into Europe. A further 400 ‘proclaimed offenders’ have been arrested to date. The agency prosecuted almost two thousand people in 2016 for their alleged involvement in human smuggling. However, FIA admits that human smuggling is not completely eradicated, especially through the porous western border.
Zia Awan believes that the FIA has already done beyond its capacity, considering the fact that it is a very small unit which oversees operations against human trafficking and human smuggling. He said, “a special task force is required to combat smuggling of humans and Pakistan cannot do this alone. It has to be done at a regional level and other countries must contribute.”
Legal ways of migration required to combat illegal border crossings
While speaking about illegal migration from Pakistan to Europe, the Pakistani lawyer said that Europe must provide legal ways for people to migrate or else, people will continue moving towards greener pastures. Awan said, “Pakistan’s population is exploding, it has a significantly high poverty rate, there is illiteracy, unemployment and the borders are porous - under such circumstances people are willing to risk their lives to reach Europe. The vast majority of them are economic migrants. They will continue and they will always find a way.”