BBC Monitoring Service
Saturday, August 31, 2002

Nadeem Malik

Pakistani paper justifies law on human trafficking

Pakistani newspaper has justified Pakistan's law on human trafficking, outlining the situation before it came into force. It also denied reports of Al-Qa'idah members fleeing into Pakistan as refugees. The following is the text of a report by Nadeem Malik, carried by Pakistani newspaper The News web site on 31 August

ISLAMABAD — Hunger, poverty and a war-like situation in the region has given rise to human trafficking, with scores of people finding refuge in freight trucks and wrecked fishing vessels to get themselves smuggled into safe havens of Europe.

Just before the beginning of the US strikes in Afghanistan on 6 October, many Afghans and non-Afghans were used to pose as anguished Afghan citizens from the north, to win sympathies of their would-be hosts.

Smuggling of Pakistani children to the Gulf region for the camel race was another major problem. Similarly, Pakistan was also being used as a transit country to move some South Asian women to the Gulf countries and Europe.

The first category of Afghans, or someone from the tribal areas, made their way through by finding crooked travel agents who could arrange fictitious Afghan papers on payments of few thousand rupees. Some travel agencies and hawala [illegal money changers] dealers in the historical Qisa Khwaani Bazaar, and in areas in the vicinity of Pak-Afghan border, also provided this service in the past, charging a paltry sum for the brand new Afghani passport and other documents, which helped in posing as Afghans. The system was so well structured that such rackets offered money-back-guarantee for transporting someone from Peshawar to the destination of choice in Europe.

Law enforcement agencies and immigration department reckoned that increasingly high profits and lesser fear of harsh punishment had propped up syndicates of human traffickers across Asia, the Middle East and Europe smuggling poor people from poverty-stricken nations to Western Europe. This problem is said to be declining, particularly in Peshawar, as the security agencies had tightened up their controls.

Though there was a growing intolerance, as well as xenophobia for Afghans, in asylum states, yet they sought refuge to rescue their souls instead of being destroyed at home. The years of civil war, droughts and hunger made Afghans largest refugee population in the world, with some 4 million spread out between Iran, Pakistan and a multitude of other countries in the world.

There was a global transition of traditional mafias dealing in drugs and arms smuggling turning to this new area of profit. These syndicates assemble cross-border networks of scouts to seek out potential customers and drivers to bus the human hordes to staging points. Initially, Afghans used to consider neighbouring Pakistan and Iran as their final destination, but economic situation and changing realities forced these countries to shut down their borders, and law enforcement agencies became less hospitable in allowing a free ride in return for few hundred rupees.

It was hard to find a job in the other neighbouring states, but it was easy to pass through the Central Asian Republics, Iran and Pakistan to slip into Europe. The drug traffickers tired of stringent drug enforcement efforts, both by Pakistan and Iran, also the strict punishments introduced by Talebans in areas under their control, lowered opium production in Afghanistan, quickly seized this new opportunity by laying down a network in the region for human trafficking through the East-West Corridor.

These smugglers then shepherd flocks of humans in dilapidated fishing and cargo ships for treacherous sea journeys off the coast of transit countries. Dozens of such voyages in the waters between Turkey and destinations in Australia, Greece, Italy and French Riviera took place every week. Most of these barely seaworthy boats are often purchased from shipyards for human cargo crammed into crouch in the soggy, squalid and airless holds for days.

For the carriers it is just sweet and easy money, as they have no fears of being caught and punished. No worry if the wrecked ships drown and people die on board. Even they do not bother to provide food or bread to the destitute cargo. In case of a risk, crew simply abandon the ship to let it drown or smash into shorelines, leaving starving hapless passengers waiting for death.

Turkey, a centuries old commercial bridge between Asia and Europe, became a staging point largely due to its vast sea-lanes. Some reports suggest that a boatload of human cargo leaves Istanbul frequently for the Western Europe. Turkey was also a main transit nation for overland immigrant routes to Bulgaria and Greece.

Surrounded by water on three sides and with more than 5,000 miles of coastline, Turkey had remote inlets and busy industrial dockyards that provide havens for illegal immigrants, unseen by authorities. Most of these immigrants are trucked and bussed to secret locations or shabby factories in the industrial estates on the outskirts of Istanbul, before their shipment to the Sea. Some of them operate through land routes from Izmir and the central Istanbul neighbourhood of Aksaray crossing border with Bulgaria to Macedonia and then to the Albanian coastal town of Vlore, before boarding undocumented and unregistered ships.

A US State Department report reckons that human trafficking encompasses 700,000 people every year, mostly women and children. "The only way to effectively address the worldwide problem of trafficking is through collective efforts by all countries, whether they are countries of origin, transit or destination, and by being brutally honest about this issue," a senior US official said after releasing a report on Trafficking in Persons 2001. He said it happens in countries where the government violates human rights.

The report named 23 countries in July 2001, which were not adhering to minimum standards against human trafficking. These include: Albania, Bahrain, Belarus, Bosnia and Hercegovina, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Greece, Indonesia, Israel, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Sudan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Yugoslavia. The report cited root factors for the problem as greed, moral turpitude, economics, political instability and transition and social factors.

Another feature of this trade was sex-related trafficking from Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Eastern Europe, Russia and Central Asia.

Some reports suggest that thousands of women were lured by traffickers with false promises of a job in Europe, ending up in the brothels. In these cases, Greece, Turkey, the United States, Spain and France were the major destination countries, with smaller numbers of women going to the Netherlands, Germany, Britain, Belgium, Cyprus, Switzerland and other countries.

According to one estimate, at least 2 million women from Eastern Europe had been sold as sex slaves in the West and the practice shows no signs of abating. However, in recent years, most of the focus of human traffickers had shifted to Russia and Central Asia, a region fraught with social, political and economic tension. The volatile situation strengthened the activities of racketeers, providing a short cut escape route to Afghans through its northern neighbours, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan for onward journey to the West.

The warmth that existed for the largely ethnic Uzbek and Tajik groups of the northern Afghanistan kindred with the Central Asians, and increasing drug production in the area controlled by warlords, and their relations with carriers in the Central Asia further facilitated transformation of risky drug trade with human smuggling.

A report of the UN office for Drug Control and Crime Prevention stated that only 20-30 per cent Afghan opiates were transported to Europe via the traditional Iranian-Turkish route, and almost 50 per cent travelled through Central Asia. The porous borders and corrupt officials welcome this cross-border smuggling of both the drugs and humans.

Another famous route goes through Malaysia and Indonesia. The island of Botham in Indonesia takes these travellers further closer to islands near Australia. Generally, no illegal immigrant goes straight to his country of choice. Mostly he passes through several borders, stopping at midpoints, like Moscow, Dubai and Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Tehran, Istanbul or even Beijing in some cases.

Finally Pakistan's border city of Peshawar became a crucial link for all sorts of human trafficking, whether job related or smuggling of children who are kidnapped or bought and sent to work as camel jockeys in the Gulf states.

After the failure of the US to find the Taleban and Al- Qa'idah remnants in Afghanistan, western media popularly carried out stories that fleeing Arabs used the same route to dodge the US marines. But facts reveal that there could be some exceptions, but not a practice. Since Pakistani law enforcement agencies nabbed and handed over about 300-400 such fugitives, the threat perception was so high that perhaps majority of such escapees would have preferred to take the more well established Tajik route.

In this background, the promulgation of the Prevention and Control of Human Trafficking Ordinance 2002 was an important step forward. Stricter punishments introduced through this law, with a broad coverage of crime, should help serve as a deterrent in the crime prevention. However, as long as the miseries of poor people in the region would continue, hunger, poverty and social deprivation would force more people to become a victim of this indecent trade.

Source: The News web site, Islamabad, in English August 31, 2002.

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Created: September 8, 2002
Last modified: September 9, 2002
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