Pakistan identifies 14 Iranian human traffickers; seeks Interpol help to nab them

Khizar Abbas, 28, runs a general store in his village in Mandranwala, Sialkot district, after his dream to reach Italy was shattered following his arrest in Iran. (AN photo)
Updated 29 December 2017

Pakistan identifies 14 Iranian human traffickers; seeks Interpol help to nab them

SIALKOT: Khizar Abbas’ dream of reaching Italy ended in Iran when he was arrested with a number of other illegal migrants. But, he told Arab News, he was one of the lucky ones.
“Iranian (smugglers) shot four of our group just because they were tired and pleaded for some water and rest for a few minutes,” he said. “This horrifying scene haunts me.”
Abbas, a resident of Mandranwala village in Sialkot, Punjab, left for Mashkel, a border town in Pakistan’s Baluchistan province on Nov. 9, along with 30 other men who aimed to reach Europe through Iran.
“The agents kept us in a small room for two days in Mashkel which was already crammed with around 200 men aged between 20 and 35,” he said, explaining that they then a group of around 250 men then met up with Iranian agents for the next leg of their journey, to Turkey.
The Iranian “agents” divided them into small groups and took them via the mountains to Tehran.
“All of us were thinking that we had put our lives at risk,” he said. “Almost all of us wanted to return, but the agents thrashed those who asked to be released with canes.
“We were lucky that our group was arrested at a checkpoint at the outskirts of Tehran,” Abbas continued. He said a large number of men and women from Pakistan and Afghanistan were already being held there.
Having been held in a number of different detention centers, Abbas returned home on Nov. 29 and is back to running a general store to make ends meet.
Abbas’ deal with the agent was for $6,000 till Greece, but he only paid $3,500 because he was arrested and deported from Iran. His elder brother is already in Athens for the last 7 years and earning well there. So, they are well off and did not sell anything. "It was just lure of Europe that pushed him to take the risk."
Thousands of Pakistanis risk their lives each year to travel to Europe in search of better jobs with the help of human traffickers, but the majority end up in jail or dead.
In November this year, 20 people attempting to cross the Pakistan-Iran border illegally, with help from local and Iranian smugglers, were killed by militants in Turbat, Balochistan.
Following an investigation into that incident, Pakistan identified 14 Iranian human traffickers and letters have been sent to Interpol requesting their arrest.
“Agents in Turkey, Greece, Italy, and Germany were in contact with local agents in Quetta and those in Iran for getting these intending emigrants to Italy and Germany through Iran, Turkey and Greece,” a 25-page report prepared by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) revealed.
“Letters have been issued to Interpol and MoFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) to contact Iranian authorities and apprehend 14 Iranian agents,” Minister for Interior Ahsan Iqbal informed the National Assembly in a written response.
Talking to Arab News, Minister of State for Interior Affairs Tallal Chaudhry said the government has resolved to take stringent measures to choke the notorious human trafficking land route from Pakistan to Iran.
“We have conveyed our concerns to Iranian authorities through official channels and asked them for a wider crackdown on human smugglers operating on their soil,” he said, referring to a meeting between the director general of the FIA and his Iranian counterpart last week.
The minister revealed that Pakistan has also shared intelligence about smugglers operating in Turkey, Greece and Germany with the relevant authorities and requested a crackdown from them as well.
“Iran has assured us of full cooperation to arrest the human smugglers operating on its soil,” he said. “We can bring the illegal migration of Pakistanis to Europe down to a minimum only if other countries like Iran, Turkey, Greece and Italy cooperate with us.”
Human smuggling and trafficking is often quoted as the third most lucrative source of organized-crime revenue after weapons and drugs, amounting to over $32 billion per year.
The FIA told Pakistan's Supreme Court in a report that 6,767 Pakistanis entered European countries illegally through Iran in 2017 alone, while 27,749 were deported — 18,810 from Iran; 4,401 from Turkey and 4,538 from EU countries.
The report says that the most common route for illegal migration is overland from Pakistan to Iran,Turkey and then Greece.
“The illegal migrants leave Pakistan via unmanned or unofficial border crossings located along unfrequented routes into Iran,” the report says, identifying Pakistan’s Gujranwala district as “the origin of the majority” of them.
“Pakistani nationals are among the 10 most-detected nationalities that attempt irregular migration to the European Union and Australia,” says a UNODC report.
Another Mandranwala native, 45-year-old Amjad Ali, reached Greece in 2002 after six months travelling on foot from Iran to Turkey. He remained there until 2014.
“I worked at a dairy farm in Greece for 12 years, earned a lot of money, but I would still suggest aspiring illegal migrants don’t risk their lives just for the dream of a better life,” he told Arab News.
Amjad paid $4,000 to the smugglers
Despite the fact that every time an illegal migrant is killed, Pakistani authorities vow to take action, the FIA report revealed, “No proper law to control human smuggling has been enacted.”


Indonesia keeps Bali closed to foreign tourists

Updated 2 min 20 sec ago

Indonesia keeps Bali closed to foreign tourists

  • As foreign visitors remain barred from entering the country, government plans to boost domestic tourism to keep hospitality sector afloat
  • COVID-19 has shattered Indonesia’s target to welcome 17 million foreign visitors this year, dealing a major blow to national revenue

JAKARTA: Indonesia will remain closed to foreign tourists at least until the end of the year, a senior minister announced during a meeting with the country’s business community on Thursday. 
As Indonesia still grapples with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Coordinating Minister for Maritime Affairs and Investment Luhut Pandjaitan said that all non-essential foreign visitors will remain barred from entering the country, while the government will try to boost domestic tourism to keep the hospitality sector afloat. 
“With regard to foreign tourists, I think we will not be welcoming them until the end of the year,” Pandjaitan said during the virtual forum with Indonesian businesspeople, shelving a plan laid out by the provincial government of the holiday island of Bali — Indonesia’s most popular tourist destination — to reopen for international visitors on Sept. 11. 
Pandjaitan’s remarks also ended speculation as to whether the central government would revoke a regulation issued by the justice minister in late March banning foreigners — except those arriving for essential, diplomatic and official purposes — from entering Indonesia amid ongoing efforts to contain the virus outbreak. 
Bali authorities were hoping for the regulation to be revoked ahead of the island’s plan to reopen to foreigners.  
Ida Bagus Agung Partha Adnyana, head of the Bali Tourism Board, said industry players in Bali were ready for the Sept. 11 plan but acknowledged that the central government’s decision to keep foreign arrivals suspended “must be based on a more urgent reason.” 
“There could be a macro outlook behind Jakarta’s decision, and it could be for everyone’s greater good,” Adnyana told Arab News. 
According to Pandjaitan, Indonesian authorities will focus on promoting domestic tourism as Indonesians who were planning to go for holidays abroad, including those who were set to travel for Umrah, will be unable to do so this year so due to international travel restrictions.  
“There is plenty of money around. No one is going on the Umrah pilgrimage, and those who used to go to Singapore or Penang for medical treatment are not going anywhere either. These are people with money to spend, and we estimated there could be tens of trillions of rupiahs. We want them to spend the money here,” Pandjaitan said. 
According to Umrah tour operators, about 1 million Indonesians travel to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage each year, with many of them also visiting other sites in the region. 
The COVID-19 outbreak has shattered Indonesia’s target to welcome 17 million foreign visitors this year, dealing a major blow to its national revenue. 
According to Adnyana, tourism in Bali alone contributed 120 trillion to 150 trillion rupiahs ($10 billion) a year to the country’s coffers. 
He also expressed concerns that the pandemic may still affect the government’s plans to revive the industry through domestic tourism as many potential travelers may be unable to make trips to other parts of the country amid concerns of contracting the disease and internal restrictions imposed as part of the response to contain the virus.

On Friday, President Joko Widodo said in his 2021 budget speech before the parliament that 14.4 trillion rupiahs would be allocated for the tourism industry’s recovery with a focus on developing several main destinations: Lake Toba in North Sumatra; Borobudur Temple in Central Java; Mandalika in Lombok island; Labuan Bajo on the Flores island, which serves as a gateway to see the Komodo dragon on Komodo Island and Mount Kelimutu, which has three volcanic crater lakes of different colors; and Likupang Beach in North Sulawesi.