ISLAMABAD: Powerful gangs of organised criminals are trafficking hundreds of women and children from different parts of the country through Iran for labour and beggary in Europe and the Middle East, The Express Tribune has learnt on the authority of senior officials.
Investigations by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) reveal that among those smuggled through the Iran route more than 8% are women and children. “Human smugglers from Punjab and Balochistan prefer to recruit children between eight and 12 years of age, and women in their thirties and forties,” said Sultan Khan, an assistant director posted at FIA’s regional head office in Quetta.
“In most cases, women and children are smuggled along intending pilgrims who are issued valid visas for pilgrimage of holy sites in Iran,” he added. “However, from there, women and children are smuggled to European states via Turkey.”
Similarly, children and women were also being smuggled to Saudi Arabia along with intending pilgrims having valid hajj and umrah visas, disclosed Khan. Every year, Iranian authorities, as a part of a mutual agreement with Islamabad deport thousands of smuggled Pakistanis, including women and children, but Riyadh sends such illegal immigrants to jail where they languish for years without a trial.
“Iran deports 20,000 to 26,000 illegal Pakistani immigrants every year through its immigration office near the border with Balochistan,” Khan told The Express Tribune quoting from official figures. “An overwhelming majority of these people pay hefty sums in the hope human smugglers would take them to Europe.”
Human smugglers promise unsuspecting parents that their children would get decent and lucrative jobs in Europe – but instead the children are subjected to forced labour in domestic servitude. “Women and children from Punjab, particularly from Gujrat, Gujranwala, Mandi Bahauddin, Dera Ghazi Khan, Multan and Sialkot are an easy target for human traffickers.”
Initially, it was suspected that women are smuggled for prostitution, but investigators have not found any conclusive proof. “None of the women deported thus far has complained about prostitution or forced sex,” according to Khan.
However, another FIA official said the possibility could not be ruled out. “The smuggled women and children are at the mercy of their ‘employers’, they might force them into sex slavery,” the official told The Express Tribune off-the-record. He conceded that Pakistani law enforcers were not making sincere efforts to curb human trafficking due to shrinking job opportunities in the country.
The Balochistan government said it was ‘seriously concerned’ at all kinds of smuggling on both sides of the border. “Recently, Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Zehri directed federal and provincial agencies concerned to check the smuggling of petroleum and other goods from Iran,” said provincial government spokesman Anwaarulhaq Kakar.
“The Balochistan government is willing to extend all possible assistance to the FIA to stop human trafficking,” he told The Express Tribune. However, he admitted that the provincial government needs to take a fresh initiative to protect the borders with Iran and Afghanistan. “We will contact the ministries of interior and foreign affairs for this purpose,” he added.
A senior official of the ministry of interior claimed that the FIA had arrested more than 1,000 human traffickers from different parts of the country during the last 18 months. Most of these arrests had been made by FIA’s Human Trafficking Cell from Punjab, he added.
“The ministry of interior has asked the FIA and police to implement all the recommendations that were adopted at an international conference on ‘Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling’ which had been organised by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime and FIA in 2015 to discuss the challenges posed by human traffickers and migrant smuggling networks.”
Despite tall claims by FIA, the fact remains that the number of convicts of human trafficking and migrant smuggling during the past two years had been negligible, the ministry official admitted.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 9th, 2016.