By Zulqernain Tahir
Thirty-three years old Ali Hasan was deported from Greece recently after spending some 13 years as illegal immigrant. He has no regret for being deported as he could manage to support his family back home during the period but he is unhappy with the Pakistani embassy there for not even ‘owning’ him.
“My country’s embassy disowned me when the authorities in Greece arrested me. It declared that I was not a Pakistani. And it did so because the officials working there had dismissive attitude towards the people of their own country. They simply do not bother when a case of any Pakistani referred to it for verification of his credentials,” Hasan said with a request to Pakistani media to draw the government’s attention towards this serious matter.
Back in 2004 Mr Hasan, a resident of Wazirabad (some 200 kilometers from Lahore) reached Greece via illegal land and sea route – Iran and Turkey. In his talk with this writer Hasan recalled he had paid Rs100,000 ($750) to an agent here and his family paid remaining 15,0000 (over $100) to him (agent) when he got to Turkey. “After reaching Turkey through a land route – Balochistan and Iran – I along with some other Pakistani managed to enter Greece by a ferry. I was lucky to get the company of some good guys belonging to Gujrat (Pakistan) and soon got work at a construction site,” he said, adding there had been time when he would out of work that made him worried how to send money back home to his parents who were taking care of his four siblings.
Telling as how he was caught, he said one fine morning of March last he was working at a construction site in Athens when a team of law enforcers raided it and checked the papers of those working there.
These notorious human smugglers recently held by FIA from Punjab
“I had no papers. They took me to a police station and on telling my story about arriving here and working illegally for 13 years they contacted the Pakistani embassy and sought details about me. The embassy plainly refused that I was a Pakistani although I submitted my NIC (national identity card) through which my family tree could have been verified but it did not bother. That resulted in my detention for more than two weeks and finally my lawyer helped in establishing my nationality and also in applying for asylum but before my case was decided the authorities deported me.”
During his stay, he said he initially paid 300 euros to a group of Pakistani fellows who promised him to get him residential stay. “But at the end of the day I lost my money and hope to acquire legal status there. I even visited Barcelona (Spain) on the advice of a fellow immigrant friend for the same purpose but could not find the success.” In Barcelona he said thousands of Pakistanis are living illegally. Most of them are hopeful to get legal status one way or another.
Land route to reach Iran, Turkey and Greece via Balochistan has still a major source of human smuggling in Pakistan. Shakil Ahmed of Mandi Bahuaddin had also tried his luck after paying Rs30,000 to an agent back in 2006 but was deported of late after being caught by authorities in Greece.
“I made an arduous journey to Greece. I climbed through mountainous areas as well as got bundled in a container to get my dream destination in mid 2006. But my dream shattered after reaching there. It was not any easy to make money as I and my friends thought.”
Ahmad said he could not earn much to support his family – mother and five siblings – back home. “I was an illegal immigrant and the people exploited this even my own country’ men there. I could hardly manage to survive over there. Late last year I was arrested and subsequently deported after spending about two months in a detention center,” he said expressing regret that he should not have taken the decision to leave the country. “Today I am penniless and I will have to start afresh,” Ahmad said. According to Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) of Pakistan, human smugglers usually charge up to Rs425,000 ($3,000) from a person aspiring to reach Greece. “A coordinated network of human smugglers in Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Greece facilitate the travel of those ready to pay the desired amount. Some lose their lives while reaching Turkey and Greece because of difficult nature of the route. Sometimes their journey cuts short after being bundled in containers and ferries,” a senior FIA officer said. The FIA last year alone arrested more than 350 human smugglers from the Gujranwala division (of Punjab province) alone. “As long as the success stories of those earning handsomely after reaching Europe through land route are told in these areas more aspirants will continue turning up,” he said.
“The agents or human smugglers here have no offices. They operate through a word of mouth. People send their acquaintances to them (agents) and in some case literally plead them to arrange their travel to Turkey or Greece,” the officer said. An average over 2,000 Pakistanis are being deported during the last few years. “With our efforts we hope this year this number will be less,” he added.
Muhammad Jamshad is another such deportee of late from Belgium. He had gone to Dubai last year on genuine visa and from there he managed to get there (Belgium) with the help of a network of human smugglers. “I reached Belgium on visit visa which I got after getting sponsorship from a firm. But on arrival at Brussels airport immigration officials declined me entry suspecting that I was a potential illegal immigrant. I told them that my visa was genuine and the person who sponsored me should be contacted for verification. They said they would deport me and took me to a detention center where on my request they connected me with an official of the Pakistani embassy. I discussed my case with him but he refused to lend any help,” he said, adding at the detention center there were some other Pakistani young men who were having similar complaints about the Pakistani embassy.
Jamshad said he had gone Europe for better future but perhaps his luck did not favour him. On getting deported he remained up set for a couple of months before he got a job in a private firm at his native town in Kasur. Jamshad whose has done his Intermediate was reluctant to tell whom he paid money for arranging his travel documents. But he admits that he is left with no saving to try his luck abroad again.
An immigration official told Dawn that some deported persons especially from complaint that the Pakistani embassies were not cooperative with them “but we cannot make our judgment on this as this matter is related to the foreign ministry.”
An official of foreign office dismissed the impression and complaints of illegal immigrants about Pakistani embassies. “We have ensured that not only the case of any Pakistani illegal immigrant is processed and verified duly but also the respective Pakistani embassy provides legal aid to them,” he told this correspondent.
He further said when the authorities arrested an illegal immigrant they contacted the Pakistani embassy after meeting the legal process. “Our embassy extends full cooperation in this regard. It verifies his credentials with the interior ministry back home and his deportation process is initiated after that,” he said, adding illegal immigrants defamed their country by illegal act. “In many cases it has been witnessed that such illegal immigrants protect the human smugglers to whom they had paid handsome money for their illegal venture,” he added.
The official also talked about monthly visits of Pakistani embassy officials at different detention centers and jails abroad. “An official of an embassy in Europe and elsewhere pays a monthly visit to detention centers and jails to have an update about the Pakistanis there. He reports back to the embassy which takes up their cases,” he said, adding the Pakistani embassies had devised a comprehensive mechanism to address the issues of the Pakistanis living over there.
In Europe, Turkey and Greece are on the top of the list deporting illegal Pakistani immigrants. According to FIA, the number of illegal immigrants who reach destinations like Europe on genuine visit and student visa is much less that those going there through land route.
More than 9,000 Pakistanis are languishing in jails of different countries for various crimes with Saudi Arabia detaining the highest number of 2,795.
New Routes to Europe and Australia
“Human smugglers in recent years are targeting the routes of some African destinations like Mozambique and Malawi where Pakistanis get visa on arrival and from there they try to slip in South Africa and other countries,” says former FIA Punjab Director Dr Usman Anwar in talk with this correspondent.
The trend of going Europe and Australia after reaching Dubai and Malaysia, respectively, is relatively new, says Dr Anwar. “We have broken the network of human smugglers who first arrange genuine visa for aspirants for Dubai and Malaysia and once they reach there they (human smugglers) prepare their travel documents for a destination in Europe and Australia after charging them handsomely. Now because of our strong check and coordination with these countries this route is losing attraction for human smugglers here.”
The FIA is of the view that most Pakitani victims in recent capsizing of a boat in Lybia had gone there by air via Dubai. “They reached Dubai on genuine travel documents from there they paid further to agents for arranging their travel to Lybia. From there the human smugglers transported them on a ferry that unfortunately capsized,” he regretted. Dr Usman further said FIA had also initiated action against illegal immigration consultancies in Punjab and arrested more than 1,500 people involved in this heinous business last year. “These consultants would charge hefty fee from those aspiring to go to developed countries for immigration, study and business,” he said and added the FIA’s action had also helped in dropping the cases of illegal immigrants who managed to reach the developed world on student and visit visas by handsome amount to these illegal consultants.
Mr Zulqernain Tahir is an award winning journalist working with Dawn Newspaper. He can be reached at
He tweets @zulqerr