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Human Trafficking

Heartless. That’s the treatment we give millions of Pakistanis who toil abroad to annually earn more than $ 4 billion foreign exchange so that the government can squander it away according to its whims.

The government and private sharks reserve the worst treatment for those who were trafficked abroad — smuggled or sent through illegal routes and means — since the Middle East oil boom of the early 1970s. Private sharks, aided and abetted by the government’s very own law enforcers and immigration bureaucracy, trafficked these thousands, who paid hefty sums of money to get smuggled merely as chattel — a commodity bundled and bailed as any other export. Millions of families and generations of those who paid to be trafficked were ruined, as all the stakeholder sharks amassed huge amounts of wealth. Hundreds of them were thrown back home, maimed, injured, mutilated and amputated. For thousands of families, the homecoming of their dear ones was tragic. Many families received nothing but bodies.

One government after the other pretended they were protecting their nationals abroad. Later, dozens of national and international conferences, meetings and seminars — the latest one in Islamabad has just ended — revealed that the suffering of our own people in hostile, unknown lands has not abated.

Dilshad Nasir spent Rs. 450,000, raised by selling his father’s taxi and mother’s dowry, to get trafficked to Greece. As the latest anti-trafficking international conference was going on in Islamabad, Dilshad Nasir hobbled home, without one leg and the other leg without a foot, snow-bitten and amputated in Greece. End of the story. End of his family. Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz, can you help him? Can you stop this long, continuing tragedy, turning hundreds of our young men into Dilshad Nasirs? Can his tormentors and looters, Muhammad Arshad Warraich of village Maajar, Gujrat and the mafia, be put behind bars after public trials? Arshad alone has trafficked 500 people to Athens on fake travel documents, told Aftab Ahmed Sherpao, speaking at the three-day regional conference on ‘Development of a Conceptual Framework and Strategies to Combat Human Trafficking’. It was organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). The conference, as a follow up of the formation of Pakistan Thematic Group on Human Trafficking, had gathered all stakeholders to study the crime of trafficking and its complexities and the action to combat it.

Not long ago, so many people from across Pakistan, specially Gujrat, were being trafficked into Britain that it compelled Prime Minister Tony Blair to consider banning PIA flights landing at UK airports.

“This action against the scandal would have been too strong and would have permanently damaged relations between the two countries. This is why Mr. Blair was advised against it,” diplomats told me.

Should Islamabad’s anti-trafficking conference adopt Dilshad Nasir as its tragic symbol, an eye-opening ‘mascot’, if you like that label? I think the Excellencies from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Iran, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Turkmenistan who attended the conference, should. This symbol lays bare the intricacies of the task ahead of them. Trafficking violates human rights. Its scale is particularly alarming in South Asia, home to the largest number of the global poor, destitute, malnourished and the ill.

Sherpao told the conference, “The menace of human trafficking is a matter of great concern…In order to control it, anti-trafficking legislation is being updated.” For this purpose, the government has also signed an agreement with Iran, India and Greece. Afghanistan also wishes to join in. Sherpao said, “Pakistan will share its expertise with our regional partners to ensure more effective prevention of human trafficking.”

Abdul Monem Mustafa, IOM’s regional representative, said his organisation has been working with Pakistan for four years to “tackle this form of irregular migration”. It is running a shelter home for victims of trafficking to provide them medical, psychological and legal help, besides their safe repatriation to and rehabilitation in their country.

The conference explored the idea of formation of a South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) Police Force to curb human trafficking in this region.

The participants proposed “exemplary punishment to human traffickers through special courts,” and enforcement of anti-trafficking laws at country and regional level. It agreed to provide legal assistance to the regional countries under the SAARC Convention on bilateral and multilateral treaties on extradition and extra-territorial jurisdiction.

The region’s governments can also cooperate under the SAARC Convention on Preventing and Combating Trafficking in Women and Children.

Besides stiff legislation, cleaning up of law enforcers, immigration officials and the police, and a speedy system of justice, the region also direly needs a national and regional code of conduct for licensed recruiters and travel agents.

Canada’s John J. Moore appreciated Pakistan’s efforts to control human trafficking that led to its removal from the watch list of countries with growing trafficking.

But Zubaida Jalal, Minister for Social Welfare & Special Education, was of the view that, “Without joint efforts of Pakistan, Iran and Afghanistan, smuggling of humans cannot be checked in the region. Women and children are the main victims of trafficking. It encourages prostitution and other social evils.” The continued smuggling of young children out of Pakistan into the Gulf states to serve as camel jockeys, and the growing trafficking of Central Asian women for prostitution into Pakistan and other regional countries extending right up to the Gulf, too, need immediate curbing. Sitting at Dubai airport, I have seen chartered planes bringing in Central Asian girls, brought mainly for prostitution in the region.

What is the scale of trafficking? Tariq Pervaiz, Director General FIA, says trafficking is slowing down. Britain has moved Pakistan from a “high risk” to “low risk” country, “on the basis of FIA’s performance in checking illegal immigration to UK.” The US State Department, acknowledging FIA’s role in checking trafficking, has improved the country’s rating. However, the biggest challenge being faced by FIA is to reduce human trafficking through Iran and Turkey. 20,000 persons smuggled to different countries were deported and sent back to Pakistan. They included 10,000 deported from Amman and 10,000 from Iran, Turkey and Greece last year. An inter-agency task force headed by Tariq Pervaiz was formed in September 2005. It has arrested 3,500 persons while crossing the Pakistan-Iran border. Nearly 3,900 cases of human smuggling were finalized in 2005, up from 2,393 in 2004, of which 1,125 cases led to conviction in 2005, up from 585 convictions in 2004. A record 1,006 human smugglers were arrested in 2005. In 2005, 554 persons were stopped from travelling on fake documents, compared to 267 in 2004.

Moving forward, yes. But a lot more needs to be done.

All this shows the scale and magnitude of human trafficking. All this also reveals the huge task still ahead to curb human trafficking, as well as preventing smuggling of women for prostitution and trafficking of our children abroad. It is a call for action all around. It is a call for everyone — a call not to be heartless.