Desperate youth falling victim to traffickers

As FIA shifts priorities to other issues, cases of illegal immigration have steadily skyrocketed by thousands per year

Human trafficking can be found in any country, and its victims can be nearly anyone, experts say. PHOTO: REUTERS/FILE


As the country continues its battle against political turmoil, economic uncertainty and growing unemployment, the emerging youth vulnerably positioned at the vanguard find themselves hopelessly chasing immigration as the quintessential escape from all their woes and worries. While this constant yearning for greener pastures ignites discontentment and ungratefulness, it also exposes countless desperate emigrants to the preying eyes of human traffickers, who in promising to rescue them from the searing frying pan mercilessly drop them into the scalding fire.

In light of the changing priorities of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), which has increasingly involved itself in issues such as electricity theft, billing, alternative remittance service, the sale of dangerous drugs, Forex trade, illegal foreign accounts, and financial crimes, cases of human trafficking have witnessed a steady growth over the past five years, with thousands of men, women, children and transgender persons falling victim each year to the deceptive lures of traffickers, who fraudulently swindle millions of rupees from the eager emigrants only to throw them into an inescapable quandary once they reach the host countries.

One such trafficked local was Syed Shahid Ali Shah, a master’s degree holder from Wazirabad, who in an attempt to secure a better future wished to illegally immigrate to Europe. “I got into contact with a group which promised to take 60 people including myself to both Turkey and Greece after each of us paid Rs1.3 million. We were sent in three batches of 20 immigrants. However, all of us were deported soon after we reached our destination,” shared Shah.

“Every year countless young people from our area are trafficked to countries abroad. This has become a business and almost everyone is involved in it to some degree. However, quite often, the trafficked youths are deported back to the country,” concurred Asad Ali, another youth with an MA in English from Sambrial, who was also part of the deportee group.

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“Since the past several years, the FIA has been operating politically. Every government has been using it for its own purposes. Sometimes, the FIA is tasked with cracking down on electricity thieves, while at other times, officers are assigned duties related to hawala/hundi and drugs. Moreover, the FIA is also being pushed forward to deal with issues like illegal foreign accounts and Forex trading, as a result of which officers and employees, in an effort to boost their performance, produce fake reports and conduct raids, but no real efforts are made to combat human trafficking, which is growing rampantly” affirmed Muhammad Anwar Virk, former Director General of the FIA.

According to reports obtained by The Express Tribune from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) at least 43 per cent more people have been victims of human trafficking from April 2020 to April 2024, with the total number of cases of human trafficking rising to approximately 43,000 in 2023 in comparison to an estimate of 30,000 in 2020. Furthermore, 35,000 cases have already been reported during the first four months of 2024, with the majority arising from areas in Central Punjab like Gujranwala, Gujrat, Mandi Bahauddin, Jhelum, Rawalpindi, and Sialkot.

Renowned attorney, Naushab Ali Khan was of the opinion that human trafficking will persist in the country until or unless suitable employment opportunities are created. “The FIA should be given broader powers to apprehend human traffickers and special courts should be established for speedy trials to swiftly punish those caught in human trafficking. Only then will it be possible to curb human trafficking in the country,” opined Khan.

“We have arrested over 170 human smugglers over the past two years, surpassing previous records. Several others are under judicial custody. The process of arresting human smugglers listed in the Red Book is also underway,” assured Director FIA, Sarfraz Ahmed.


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