Human Trafficking

Perils and Promises

If the Frontex Risk Analysis for 2021 is to serve as a gauge, approximately 21,405 Pakistani nationals used irregular means to enter the European Union between 2017 and 2020.

By Taha Kehar | September 2023

Unauthorized migration channels between Pakistan and European countries are hardly a novel phenomenon amid widening global inequality. Yet, the pervasive practice obtained a tragic timeliness when an overloaded fishing vessel, which had left the Libyan port city of Tobruk, capsized and sank off the coast of Greece in June 2023. Over 300 Pakistani nationals were also aboard the ill-fated trawler.

Over the years, a cash-strapped, debt-addled Pakistan has been on the brink of economic collapse. As inflationary pressure and unemployment levels reached precarious and unprecedented heights, skeptics quickly drew distressing comparisons between the country’s economic challenges and those that afflicted Sri Lanka. Financial agony, coupled with prolonged political instability, has contributed to the collective distress of Pakistani nationals. Many of them are queuing up outside foreign embassies to obtain visas so they can relocate to other lands, away from the storms and quagmires besetting their home country. However, the benefit of escape is a privilege that few can avail.

Pakistan is a key labor exporter, but not everyone can legally migrate to other countries. Faced with an interminable stream of requests for entry clearance, foreign embassies are struggling to process applications in record time. Discouraged by the dearth of opportunities for a safe, legal exit and desperate for a swift escape, some economically marginalized sections of society have fallen victim to the trickery of human traffickers. These dubious middlemen – referred to as ‘agents’ – extract a fee in exchange for facilitating their departure from Pakistan through irregular means.

Human traffickers have helped people cross international borders through perilous land, air, and sea routes, and they carry out their operations through transnational networks. As per the news report, the favored route to Europe is through Libya, as the country’s security dynamics have been compromised since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. Human traffickers in Pakistan obtain legal paperwork enabling migrants to travel via air to Libya or Egypt. After they arrive in these Middle Eastern states, they are packed into congested vessels and expected to make a treacherous sea journey to reach the ‘promised land.’ The migrants endure copious ordeals during these life-threatening journeys but seldom protest about these pitiable conditions. The hapless passengers labor under the illusion that they are sailing towards a bright future. The overcrowded boat is their only escape from the financial woes and bleak prospects back home.

Irregular migration through Libya or Egypt comes through as an unusual challenge for border control authorities as most migrants leave Pakistan through legitimate means. In addition, most migrants who are ferried across Europe under inhumane treatment are often reluctant to file a report with the relevant authorities.

Read More