GUJRAT: The last time Mohammed Tayyab heard his father’s voice, it was in a voice note sent on June 9 in which Mohammed Tahir said:
“My son, we have boarded the ship, just keep praying.”
Tahir, 42, was among at least 350 Pakistanis on board an overloaded boat that capsized and sank in open seas off Greece earlier this month, along the world’s deadliest migration route from Libya to Italy. There were 750 illegal migrants in total on the vessel, with only 104 survivors and 78 people who drowned brought to shore by Greek authorities. Nothing has been found since.
“We have no Eid. What is Eid without a father,” Tayyab told Arab News outside his small house in the Pakistani city of Gujrat, believed to be a notorious hub for human traffickers. “We pray to Allah for a miracle.”
Pakistanis have increasingly been making perilous sea journeys in recent months amid skyrocketing inflation, joblessness and other economic hardships. From the district of Gujrat alone, at least 90 people, including Tahir and his brother Qaisar, left home on April 15, flying from Islamabad airport to Karachi to Dubai, Egypt, and finally Libya, where they boarded the doomed vessel in June. Each of the men from Gujarat had paid around $7,000 to traffickers, and now all 90 are missing and presumed dead, highlighting the perils faced by people who seek to enter Europe illegally.
“It was his mission to take his children there for their better future,” Tayyab said on why his father chose the illegal migration route.
“But I’ll advise people: Don’t go through this route. It’s a very dangerous route.”
According to local estimates, at least one member from each family in Gujrat district lives and works in Europe and sends back remittances, inspiring confidence among others in the area that they too could use traffickers to seek a better life abroad.
In fact, Tahir himself had successfully traveled to Germany via a boat around 15 years ago and afterward helped three of his brothers migrate to the country as well. Two of them, Faisal and Sheraz, are now legal residents of Italy while Tahir was deported to Pakistan from Germany in April 2023 as he still did not have valid documents
Immediately upon returning, he wasted no time in planning to go back.
“They (Tahir and Qaisar) asked us to pray for them, saying, ‘We are leaving now and your prayers will help us reach our destination,’” Tahir’s mother, who only identified herself by her first name, Maryam, told Arab News, surrounded by her grandsons and daughters — an entire family in mourning.
Mohammed Deen, 68, was also grieving but said he was still waiting for news from his stepson, Mohammed Faizan Ali, 22, whose elder daughter had sold agricultural land to pay 2.35 million rupees (over $7,000) to a local smuggler so Ali could travel to Italy.
“He was adamant to go abroad. He would say, ‘Send me, I want to go to Italy, I have to take care of my home’s resources,’” Deen said. “He said nothing else but insisted that we send him as quickly as possible.”
Sitting on a worn-out sofa in his drawing room, Deen said the community would not be celebrating Eid this year.
“What is our Eid? Eid is happiness, and what is our happiness?” he asked. “It has been 12, 13 days. Whenever we remember him, we grieve and shed tears.”
Tahir Manda, an ex-municipal mayor of Gujrat, said every house in the city was in mourning:
“They can’t sleep, they don’t know where their children are,” he said.
“What is it to the smugglers? They have fled after fleecing their victims, but what will happen to the families whose loved ones are missing or dead?”