The government would do well to heed and that too urgently, the warning contained in the 50-page report prepared in December 2014, by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime on the socioeconomic impact of human trafficking and migrant smuggling in Pakistan. It is highly likely, according to the report, that extremist groups within Pakistan are also involved in alternative funding activities through trafficking. The report estimates that the funds involved in trafficking have gone up to almost a billion dollars a year. According to Cesar Guedes, the country representative, the report was commissioned in order to develop an in-depth understanding of the socioeconomic patterns and trends related to the clandestine activity. Discussing the background of the exercise, the report asserts that Pakistan is a source, transit and a destination country. Pakistanis have largely been detected while illegally entering Iran, Turkey, Greece, Oman and Spain. Major trafficking routes include the UAE via Iran and Oman, Greece via Iran and Turkey, and Spain via the Middle East and West Africa.
According to the US Department of State’s “Trafficking in Persons” report, 2013, Pakistan was classified as a tier two country. Countries classified as such are defined by the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons as “countries whose governments do not fully comply with the minimum standards”. Pakistan did not show any marked changes in classification with the exception of 2009, where it slipped into the tier two watch list. Incidentally, the immediately preceding period of 2007-08 had also displayed the highest increase in the number of Pakistani deportees from foreign countries. In 2014, the US Department of State “Trafficking in Persons” report reclassified Pakistan as a tier two watch list country. Countries on the tier two watch list face significant repercussions. Those on the list for two consecutive years automatically slide down into Tier three. Countries in this category face immediate suspension of all US aid except on humanitarian grounds. Only the US president can directly issue a waiver for continuation of necessary aid to tier three countries.
According to the numbers from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), the highest number of traffic handled was 10.4 million in 2013. The traffic for the time period of 2009-2013 has steadily increased from 8.2 million to 10.4 million, displaying an increase of about 27 per cent. Economic opportunities, labour shortages and aging populations in destination countries are considered as a pull factor for legal and illegal migration. Trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants is an enormously lucrative business. The interior ministry estimates that over 1,000 networks are illegally transporting Pakistanis to various destination countries and “pocketing millions of rupees”. The report concedes that concrete evidence on the amounts charged by agents is not adequately documented, but has estimated that about Rs1.5 million are being charged per head by agents for European destinations such as France and Spain, while those wishing to go to the UK cough up between Rs1.4 million and Rs1.6 million. For destinations in the Far East, like Malaysia and Indonesia, the charges are Rs500,000 to Rs600,000 per head. Recent trends also show increased traffic to Australia at Rs700,000 per head. Based on the deportation numbers and the estimated amounts charged, the minimum annual addition to the illegal economy since 2007 has been going up from around $770 million to nearly a billion dollars by 2013.
According to the report, trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants was found by previous research to be an activity that is not “discrete and insular … but generally cloaked by other crimes” and that it “is also being incorporated into the operations of terrorist groups” — a matter of serious concern for Pakistan, which has, rightly or wrongly, earned the dubious reputation of being an exporter of terrorism. The existence of such routes can be correlated to terrorism and drug routes, as they can easily be used to move illegal drugs and members of extremist organisations without a legal footprint. There is evidence of interactivity between trafficking in persons, terrorist activity and drug-related crimes in Pakistan. Quoting a key stakeholder, the report said that “criminal gangs operating in different criminal enterprises, cooperate with each other in facilitation of in-country and cross-border trafficking routes”.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2015.