Pakistan seeks Interpol help for arrest of 14 Iranian international human smugglers

Pakistan seeks Interpol help for arrest of 14 Iranian international human smugglers

SIALKOT: Khizar Abbas’ dream of reaching Italy ended in Iran when he was arrested with a number of other illegal migrants. But, he told Arab News, he was one of the lucky ones. “Iranian (smugglers) shot four of our group just because they were tired and pleaded for some water and rest for a few minutes,” he said. “This horrifying scene haunts me.”

Abbas, a resident of Mandranwala village in Sialkot, Punjab, left for Mashkel, a border town in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province on Nov. 9, along with 30 other men who aimed to reach Europe through Iran.

“The agents kept us in a small room for two days in Mashkel which was already crammed with around 200 men aged between 20 and 35,” he said, explaining that they then a group of around 250 men then met up with Iranian agents for the next leg of their journey, to Turkey.

The Iranian “agents” divided them into small groups and took them via the mountains to Tehran.

“All of us were thinking that we had put our lives at risk,” he said. “Almost all of us wanted to return, but the agents thrashed those who asked to be released with canes.

“We were lucky that our group was arrested at a checkpoint at the outskirts of Tehran,” Abbas continued. He said a large number of men and women from Pakistan and Afghanistan were already being held there.

Having been held in a number of different detention centers, Abbas returned home on Nov. 29 and is back to running a general store to make ends meet.

Abbas’ deal with the agent was for $6,000 till Greece, but he only paid $3,500 because he was arrested and deported from Iran. His elder brother is already in Athens for the last 7 years and earning well there. So, they are well off and did not sell anything.

"It was just lure of Europe that pushed him to take the risk." Thousands of Pakistanis risk their lives each year to travel to Europe in search of better jobs with the help of human traffickers, but the majority end up in jail or dead.

In November this year, 20 people attempting to cross the Pakistan-Iran border illegally, with help from local and Iranian smugglers, were killed by militants in Turbat, Balochistan. Following an investigation into that incident, Pakistan identified 14 Iranian human traffickers and letters have been sent to Interpol requesting their arrest.

“Agents in Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Germany were in contact with local agents in Quetta and those in Iran for getting these intending emigrants to Italy and Germany through Iran, Turkey and Greece,” a 25-page report prepared by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) revealed.

“Letters have been issued to Interpol and MoFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to contact Iranian authorities and apprehend 14 Iranian agents,” Minister for Interior Ahsan Iqbal informed the National Assembly in a written response.

Talking to Arab News, Minister of State for Interior Affairs Tallal Chaudhry said the government has resolved to take stringent measures to choke the notorious human trafficking land route from Pakistan to Iran.

“We have conveyed our concerns to Iranian authorities through official channels and asked them for a wider crackdown on human smugglers operating on their soil,” he said, referring to a meeting between the director general of the FIA and his Iranian counterpart last week.

The minister revealed that Pakistan has also shared intelligence about smugglers operating in Turkey, Greece and Germany with the relevant authorities and requested a crackdown from them as well.

“Iran has assured us of full cooperation to arrest the human smugglers operating on its soil,” he said. “We can bring the illegal migration of Pakistanis to Europe down to a minimum only if other countries like Iran, Turkey, Greece and Italy cooperate with us.”

Human smuggling and trafficking is often quoted as the third most lucrative source of organized-crime revenue after weapons and drugs, amounting to over $32 billion per year.

The FIA told Pakistan's Supreme Court in a report that 6,767 Pakistanis entered European countries illegally through Iran in 2017 alone, while 27,749 were deported — 18,810 from Iran; 4,401 from Turkey and 4,538 from EU countries.

The report says that the most common route for illegal migration is overland from Pakistan to Iran,Turkey and then Greece.

“The illegal migrants leave Pakistan via unmanned or unofficial border crossings located along unfrequented routes into Iran,” the report says, identifying Pakistan’s Gujranwala district as “the origin of the majority” of them.

“Pakistani nationals are among the 10 most-detected nationalities that attempt irregular migration to the European Union and Australia,” says a UNODC report.

Another Mandranwala native, 45-year-old Amjad Ali, reached Greece in 2002 after six months travelling on foot from Iran to Turkey. He remained there until 2014.

“I worked at a dairy farm in Greece for 12 years, earned a lot of money, but I would still suggest aspiring illegal migrants don’t risk their lives just for the dream of a better life,” he told Arab News.

Amjad paid $4,000 to the smugglers Despite the fact that every time an illegal migrant is killed, Pakistani authorities vow to take action, the FIA report revealed, “No proper law to control human smuggling has been enacted.”