Migrant smuggling in Pakistan | By Wajahat Ali Malik


Migrant smuggling in Pakistan

MIGRANT Smuggling is synonym of Human Smuggling. It involves the provision of a service – typically transportation or fraudulent documents — to an individual who voluntarily seeks to gain illegal entry into a foreign country. It is a business transaction between the two willing parties involving movement across international borders, usually by illegal means. It occurs with the consent of a smuggled person, and the transaction usually ends on arrival. The defining element of migrant smuggling is transportation across international borders that is why, it is also referred as Transnational Migrant Smuggling.

Article 3 of the Protocol Against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the UNTOC provides the sole internationally accepted definition of Smuggling of Migrants as; “Smuggling of migrants” shall mean the procurement, in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or other material benefit, of the illegal entry of a person into a State Party of which the person is not a national or a permanent resident.

Pakistan is a source, transit and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to migrant smuggling. Anyone can be the victim of migrant smuggling, but children especially girls and women are most vulnerable population in Pakistan to become the target of such offence. Vulnerable Pakistani migrants are most often smuggled to the Gulf States, Iran, Turkey, South Africa, Uganda, Greece, North America, Southeast Asian countries, Far East Asian countries and other European countries. In some cases, migrants of other countries are transited in Pakistan temporarily, and then smuggled by land into Iran and then to Turkey so that they can access European countries such as Greece, Spain and Italy etc.

These countries are full European Union members and migrants find the common labour market as an opportunity to reach the rich economies of northern and western Europe. Some smuggled migrants access Oman from Pakistan’s southern coast to reach the Middle East. Those who can afford it travel by air, many to Dubai, in the hope of transiting to other destinations in the Middle East, North America, or Australia. Pakistan is also a destination country for smuggled migrants from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, India and Iran who are then subjected to human trafficking here.

Illegal cross-border movement of migrants through land routes is not monitored accurately in Pakistan, therefore, the true scale of transnational migrant smuggling is not known in Pakistan, although Pakistani migrant smuggling victims continue to be detected throughout the rest of the world. A latest example of this is two separate incidents of boat wrecks in February 2023, off the Italian and Libyan coasts in which dozens of Pakistanis amongst nationals of Afghanistan, Somalia, Syria, Iraq and Iran were detected as illegal migrants, who were being smuggled to Europe for seeking better life opportunities. These illegal migrants even contain children and infants accompanying adults.

Around four dozens of Pakistanis were killed in these two incidents including a national woman athlete Shahida Raza from Quetta and a child Azan Afridi from Peshawar. In an Italy boat wreck incident, Italian police has confirmed that a Turkish and two Pakistani nationals had sailed the boat from Turkey to Italy despite the terrible weather and one of Pakistani nationals was a minor. These three migrant smugglers were the survivors of the tragedy and arrested by Italian police. They allegedly asked for about $8,540 from each migrant for this deadly sea journey.

Under International law, migrant Smuggling is recognized as Transnational Organized Crime. Organized crime means ‘illegal activities, conducted by groups or networks acting in concert, by engaging in violence, corruption or related activities in order to obtain, directly or indirectly, a financial or material benefit’. Transnational organized crime occurs when these activities, or these groups or networks, operate in two or more countries. To prevent and control the transnational organized crime in the form of migrant smuggling globally, the United Nations has adopted the international instrument ‘Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants by Land, Sea and Air, supplementing the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime’. It is also referred as the ‘Smuggling Protocol’ and ‘UNSOM Protocol’. Pakistan ratified the UNTOC in 2010 but neither signed nor ratified UNSOM protocol. In compliance to Pakistan’s international obligations, it is bound to legislate to address the issues of migrant smuggling.

Until 2018, the Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance 2002 was the only legal instrument to curb human smuggling in Pakistan. The law did not make distinction between human trafficking and human smuggling and criminalized the victims. To overcome this problem and to fulfil Pakistan’s international treaty obligations, in 2018 Pakistan has enacted an exclusive law ‘Prevention of Smuggling of Migrants Act 2018’ (PSOM Act 2018) and subsequently its Rules were notified in 2020. This was the watershed moment in the history of legislation to safeguard the human rights of smuggled migrants. It took Pakistan 16 years to legislate and replace an ineffective Ordinance on human smuggling. This also reflects the persistent lack of policy focus on this critical area of organized crime. Federal Investigation Agency is the main law enforcement agency in Pakistan, responsible for the implementation of the above-mentioned legislation and to address the migrant smuggling.

According to FIA’s latest Annual Report on Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling, in year 2021, FIA registered 69 cases under the PSOM Act 2018,47 cases were under investigation and 26 were prosecuted (challaned) in the court. The number of accused identified in these cases were 144 (143 men, 1 woman) and number of accused challaned (prosecuted) in courts in these cases were 57 (47 men, 10 women). A fine of Rs. 1.234 million was awarded to convicts in these cases. The number of smuggled migrant victims identified in these cases were 76 (73 men, 1 woman and 2 children). FIA provided legal support to 22 victims and no psychological, financial or other support was provided to any victim in these cases.

—The writer is a former Programme Policy Advisor at National Commission on the Rights of Child, Govt of Pakistan, Islamabad.

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