Families mourn Greek shipwreck deaths of Pakistani migrants

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Families mourn Greek shipwreck deaths of Pakistani migrants

The trawler sank off the Greek coast last month in one of the busiest centers for trafficking in Pakistan, the Guardian has found.

At least two more people have left with the help of traffickers from the Mandi Bahauddin district of eastern Pakistan in the past week. The continued migration comes as families mourn loved ones believed to be on the Greek shipwreck, most of whom were from Pakistan and those missing after previous forlorn attempts to reach Europe.

Pakistani officials say they can do little to stop the operations of local traffickers. But the families say they have registered local cases accusing traffickers of lying about the legality of the routes and that officials are not prosecuting them.

Some locals say their missing relatives had been led to believe they would be taken to Europe by air using legal visas and not through dunki, the colloquial term in Punjab province for illegal migration.

Many migrants are legally ferried to countries like Nigeria, where traffickers have people and safe houses, before making their way overland to Libya and onwards to Europe.

When Iqbal left Pakistan in 2021, his son, Zafar Iqbal, was 17. The agent told me that we would take your son and nephews through a cargo flight from Tunisia to Italy, he said. Traffickers initially told Iqbal that his son had reached Italy and was in quarantine, but then a few months later, he said that all the missing people had been arrested and jailed in Libya.

We trusted these agents because they were from our village and neighbouring towns. They had sent thousands of people to Europe. Everyone knows them, said Khurram Shahzad, whose brother, Ibrar Hussain, is missing after making his way to Libya.

The NGOs also admitted that despite knowing of migrants who had drowned crossing the Mediterranean, they still allowed their children to leave and so end up on the Greek shipwreck.

I knew everything despite it I sent my son, said Mulazim Hasan, an 18-year-old. My luck was my luck to see this tragic incident of my son who drowned, his body never to be found. Or maybe I did not think rationally and there must have been a curtain on my mind. I did not foresee this tragedy, said Khizr Hayat, whose 30-year-old son Ali Hasnain was also on board the Greek ship. Now we're treated as fools because we allowed him to leave. If he had survived, we would have been treated as wise people. Pakistan's security services said the tragedies were not dissuading would-be migrants. A director of the federal investigation agency FIA said families also knew of success stories of those who made it abroad and that the agents sold these stories to them.

We're trying our best to arrest the traffickers and we have made many arrests. If we do it, they complain that the FIA does not stop them for illegal gratifications bribes, said local politician Nadeem Afzal Chan, who said the exodus and the use of traffickers was unlikely to stop until the state invested in education, provided economic stability and gave young people more hope for the future.

There are family, social, and economic pressures on people to send their children abroad for a better life, he said. He said the children often persuade their parents to let them go, even through illegal means, as they have seen others settle abroad and prosper.

I went to offer condolences in a village and was told that two more people had left the village despite knowing about the Greek shipwreck. It is a structural and complicated issue and we have to deal with it accordingly, Chan said.