“400 Pakistanis lost lives, in desperate pursuit of Escape amidst unsettling instability in the country”
By Syed Atiq ul Hassan
On June 14, 2013, a boat (fishing vessel) carrying about 750 people left the Libyan city of Tobruk. The target of this vessel was to cross the Greek waters from North Africa and land on the Italian coast. When the vessel approached the coast of Greece on the way between Libya and Italy, it remained in the sea for about seven hours due to engine failure. But the Greek authorities on the Greek maritime border did not help. Most of the people on this vessel were Pakistanis, besides Egyptians, Syrians, Pakistanis, Afghanis, and Palestinians. These people wanted to go to Europe by paying a huge amount of money, illegally, to human smugglers.
This incident became the headlines of all the international media including Australia. According to the Greek authorities, 104 people on board the vessel was saved, and all others drowned in the sea, where 80 bodies were pulled out from the sea yet.
Today, the biggest question for the world is why citizens of countries like Pakistan, Libya, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nepal, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan are finally selling their valuable assets, and houses, or borrowing money from others to pay agents to escape to other countries risking their lives. Among those killed in the current accident, most of the people were young and middle-aged.
These people belonged to the poor and were fed up with the conditions and unemployment in their countries. If we talk about Pakistan, the news published in the world media has published the story of many individual people. Among the Pakistanis on board, the vessel was a 25-year-old youth who was fed up with the conditions in Pakistan and his unemployment, contacted a local human smuggler (travel agent), and paid about 2.5 million Pakistanis rupees to move him to any European country. This young man’s father and family forbade him, but he came to the agent’s words and was inspired by the dream of seeing Europe in three days, so he sold his savings and paid the money to the agent.
Another, 60-year-old Pakistani man named Mahmood was also one of the stranded on the boat, who paid US$8,000 to the agent to escape from Pakistan. Mehmood did not even have any travel documents, but the agent told him that he did not require his travel document to get out of Pakistan and land in any European country in three to four days where he would earn a lot of money per month.
Due to coercion, poverty, and unemployment, people risk their savings for better financial and economic conditions and fall into the hands of human trafficking agents. There is a debate in the international media that despite strict immigration laws like in Europe, Canada, and Australia, and severe punishments for human trafficking and illegal entrance into these countries the asylum seekers straight send to remote prison camps by the local authorities, why people cannot be stopped by the countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Middle East, and Africa? Why are people willing to risk their lives and compromise all possible conditions to leave a country like Pakistan despite being severely punished and returned to their native land?
The Pakistani media and social media are reporting that the owners of the vessel were not treating the Pakistanis well during the journey and all the Pakistanis who were around 400 were kept in the lower part of the vessel, and they were at high risk to drown in the sea first. These passengers were not even being given water to drink due to which many passengers became so weak that they forcibly reached the top and jumped into the sea and died.
There are also reports that the vessel was stuck in the sea near the Greece coast for about seven hours due to engine failure and was contacting the Greece authority for help. Greece authority inspected the vessel from helicopters and found passengers overboard are trapped in a life-threatening condition. Yet deliberately the Greece authority did not try timely to evacuate the passengers from the boat. Otherwise, these passengers could have been saved. Greece’s government drew widespread condemnation, sparking public protests in Greece and prompting the United Nations agency to initiate an investigation into the incident.
The incident raises a pressing question! Why do citizens of countries like Pakistan, Libya, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Nepal, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan resort to such drastic measures, risking their lives and leaving behind their valued assets and families? Despite strict immigration laws in countries like Europe, Canada, and Australia, as well as severe punishments for human trafficking and illegal entry, people remain determined to escape. This begs a deeper examination of the underlying factors, such as the harsh living conditions, unemployment, and lack of economic opportunities that drive individuals to compromise their safety and well-being.
The Greece vessel accident serves as a tragic reminder of the desperate circumstances faced by individuals from various countries who seek a better life beyond their borders. The incident underscores the need for international cooperation in addressing the root causes that drive people to embark on treacherous journeys, such as poverty, unemployment, and lack of opportunities.
It is unfortunate that incidents involving the sinking of Greek ships and the loss of hundreds of lives have occurred repeatedly. Many wonder why countries struggle to prevent their citizens from leaving illegally and why human trafficking continues to thrive. The answer lies in the poverty, hunger, and economic instability plaguing these nations. Factors such as high unemployment rates, citizen insecurity, and corrupt government systems contribute to the ongoing challenges.
Two decades ago, after the Afghan military operation, numerous Afghans obtained Pakistani identity cards and passports illicitly in Pakistan before setting their sights on Australia. Mistaken for Pakistanis due to their appearance, size, and language, these individuals were granted humanitarian consideration by Australian immigration, considering the ongoing terrorism in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa at the time. Unfortunately, when these Afghans are involved in criminal activities today, they are erroneously labelled as Pakistanis due to their initial entry into Australia on Pakistani passports. Such actions only serve to further tarnish Pakistan’s reputation abroad.
Pakistan finds itself among the top ten countries with over a million citizens residing outside its borders. Among these expatriate Pakistanis, a significant number work tirelessly abroad, sending money back home to support their families and fulfill their daily needs. Annually, a staggering thirty billion US dollars are remitted to Pakistan from foreign countries. These remittances not only provide financial assistance to families but also contribute significantly to the country’s foreign exchange reserves, accounting for over thirty percent of Pakistan’s total foreign exchange. If these inflows were to cease, it would pose considerable challenges for the Pakistani government in sustaining its operations. Consequently, Pakistan and other economically disadvantaged nations should focus on equipping their citizens with skills and education that enable them to secure legal employment or establish businesses overseas. This would allow them to earn a dignified living while supporting their loved ones and making a substantial contribution to their home country’s economy.
Eliminating corruption, prioritizing the welfare of citizens, and implementing stringent laws against human trafficking are crucial steps for impoverished nations to protect their citizens from falling prey to criminal trafficking networks. By doing so, innocent individuals can be spared from becoming victims, losing their lives, or spending the rest of their days behind bars in foreign lands.
The Pakistanis residing in Australia are already deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in their home country. Rising inflation, unemployment, and lawlessness have left them worried and apprehensive about the ongoing events in Pakistan.
Regrettably, whenever incidents like the Greece vessel sinking occur, the Pakistani government and the country’s Prime Minister tend to offer the same repetitive statements. However, it is evident that crimes, including human trafficking, continue to escalate within Pakistan, leaving the government seemingly powerless. Human traffickers have not been effectively curbed, nor have they faced significant punishment in the past. Consequently, Pakistan’s reputation continues to suffer globally, and its citizens residing abroad often face a sense of shame.
Following the tragic vessel incident, the Prime Minister of Pakistan announced a one-day mourning period in the country, with top law enforcement officials pledging action against human traffickers. While such statements are routinely made, corruption remains unabated, incidents persist, and lawlessness, violence, and injustices continue to escalate.
The Pakistanis living in Australia find themselves greatly distressed and disillusioned about the future of their home country. It is imperative for Pakistan to address these pressing concerns and implement effective measures to restore hope and security for its citizens, both at home and abroad.
(Syed Atiq ul Hassan is a Sydney-based Journalist, political analyst, editor Tribune International, Australia, and anthropologist, his email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, mobile is +61 479 143 628 )
Concluded: 21 June 2023