Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Wednesday directed Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah to “formulate recommendations related to the necessary legislation to prevent human trafficking”.
The premier’s statement comes days after a 20-30 metre long fishing boat packed with hundreds of migrants — including reportedly a large number of Pakistanis — sank off Greece’s south-west coast on June 12-13 in some of the deepest waters of the Mediterranean, on a journey which started from Libya and was supposed to end in Italy. So far, 81 have been confirmed dead, while 104 were rescued.
The incident prompted outrage, a period of national mourning and a government move to crack down on human smugglers. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has claimed that 22 agents suspected to have sent the victims on the illegal journey have been arrested.
Chairing a meeting in Islamabad regarding human smuggling and the Greece boat tragedy today, the premier directed the interior minister to supervise the investigation process and ordered that those responsible for human trafficking be brought to justice at the earliest.
The premier expressed “resentment over not taking timely action to check human smuggling and taking concrete steps despite the repetition of such incidents”, Radio Pakistan reported.
It further said that Shehbaz ordered the investigation committee to submit the report at the earliest while also directing the Gujranwala commissioner to identify the agents involved in human trafficking.
The meeting was informed that ten first information reports (FIRs) had been registered after the incident while 15 people, including the prime suspect, had been arrested, Radio Pakistan said.
The report said that the premier directed the relevant institutions to be in “constant contact” with the families of the victims, while the Pakistani embassy in Athens was instructed to stay in touch with Greek authorities.
Meanwhile, in a statement issued today, an FIA spokesperson said a suspect allegedly involved in the smuggling of Greece shipwreck victims was arrested by the agency’s Anti-Human Trafficking Circle Gujrat.
He said the captured suspect, identified as Zafar Iqbal, received millions of rupees to illegally send people to Europe.
The FIA also stated that its Lahore zone had arrested 16 suspects so far and 37 cases had been registered against human smugglers in Lahore, Gujranwala and Gujrat.
In another statement issued earlier today, the agency said it had arrested two “human smugglers” allegedly involved in trafficking people to Libya, including those who had died in a shipwreck earlier this year.
There have been two notable incidents of boats drowning off the coast of Libya in the Mediterranean Sea this year in which several Pakistanis lost their lives. The first incident took place in April and the other this month.
The FIA spokesperson said the suspects had received a sum of Rs2.5 million for facilitating the victims’ illegal journey to Europe.
He said the suspects, identified as Mohsin Javed and Sharafat Ali, hailed from Gujranwala and were arrested by the FIA’s Anti-Human Trafficking Circle in the city.
“The smugglers facilitated Umair Yahya’s journey to Libya, who died in the shipwreck,” the agency said, adding that a case had been registered against the suspects and further investigation was under way.
Separately, the agency also requested the parents and children of the victims for DNA samples to identify the dead bodies recovered from the sea.
In a statement issued today, the FIA said DNA samples of at least 108 people had been collected. The reports will be sent to the Pakistan embassy in Greece.
“Families of the victims submitted 52 samples at the agency’s office in Gujrat and 46 samples were provided in Gujranwala,” it added.
Earlier, Dawn reported that women, elders, youth and children, encumbered by the grief of their loved ones’ uncertain fate, stood in lines, awaiting their samples to be taken.
Separately, Reuters reported that the Greece Coastguard charged nine men over the shipwreck and detained at least 82 people, while the European Union promised more funds and actions on migration.
The suspected smugglers, all from Egypt and aged between 20 and 40 years, appeared before a prosecutor on Tuesday to respond to charges that included manslaughter, setting up a criminal organisation, migrant smuggling and causing a shipwreck.
They all denied any wrongdoing, according to state broadcaster ERT.
Meanwhile, the ageing vessel — that sunk in the Mediterranean Sea — was thought to have departed from Egypt, then picked up passengers in the Libyan coastal city of Tobruk on June 10 before setting sail for Italy. Greek authorities said survivors told them they paid $4,500 each for the journey.
Greece was alerted by Italy over the boat’s presence in its search and rescue jurisdiction on June 12. The boat had been approached by merchant vessels and shadowed by the Greek coastguard for several hours before capsizing and sinking.
But the exact circumstances of the vessel sinking were still unclear.
In Brussels, the European Union decided to earmark 15 billion euros as part of its 2024-2027 budget to bolster migration policies.
The money would be used, among other things, to foster partnerships with third countries, provide help to refugees in the Middle East and react to humanitarian crises, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said.
“It is horrible what happened and the more urgent it is that we act”, von der Leyen said when asked about the shipwreck.