350 migrants on the boat that sank off Greece were from Pakistan. One village lost a generation of men. – CBS News

Watch CBS News
By Maria Usman
/ CBS News
Islamabad — In the tiny, remote village of Bandli, high up in the mountains of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, local officials were circulating a grim list on Friday. On it are the names of 11 missing men. They are believed to be among the hundreds of people who were crammed by human traffickers onto an old fishing boat that sank off the coast of Greece last week, thousands of miles from their homes, as they tried to make it to European soil.
It was one of the deadliest maritime disasters in Europe in decades.
The men from Bandli were among an estimated 400 to 750 people from Pakistan, Egypt, Syria and other countries packed onto the fishing boat when it sank about 50 miles from the southern Greek town of Pylos on June 14.
Pakistan has grappled for months with a complete economic meltdown, spurring more and more people to risk their lives to reach Europe in search of a better future. 
CBS News’ partner network BBC sent a team from its World Service, Urdu channel to Bundli, where they met Raja Anwar standing on the roof of his house, staring vacantly at the gate to his property.
His 38-year-old son Abdul sent Anwar a message to say he was getting on the boat in Libya just before it set off on June 14.
“We had to take a huge loan of 22 lakhs ($8,000) from our extended family to pay for his journey,” Anwar told the BBC.
He said his village had lost a young generation of men, including his son and four nephews, the youngest of whom, Owais Tariq, was only 19. All the men but one were married with young children, he said.
The boat the would-be migrants were on had a capacity for far fewer people, and when it became clear that it was capsizing, the captain reportedly abandoned ship and left them to their fate. Of the hundreds who were on the boat – which one group said may have included many children – only 104 were rescued. Greek authorities have recovered 82 bodies so far. 
Pakistan appears to have had the highest number of nationals on board the doomed vessel. The country’s Interior Minister, Rana Sanaullah, told parliament Friday that at least 350 Pakistanis were on the boat, adding that a total of 281 families had contacted the government to seek help and information.
Another 193 Pakistani families have already been DNA-tested to match with the remains of victims found, or to keep on file with so many people still officially missing after the shipwreck. 
Pakistan has arrested several alleged human traffickers and their agents, who have told authorities their ringleader was based in Libya, from which the boat set sail on the North African coast.
These human smugglers allegedly charged around $8,000 per person to illegally take the Pakistani nationals to Europe across the Mediterranean from Libya – a dangerous sea crossing that has become busier as European nations have worked to seal their land borders. The migrants had been flown legally to Dubai, Egypt and directly to Libya, authorities said.
An official inquiry was underway to identify and arrest any others involved in the human smuggling, Sanaullah said, adding that Pakistan’s government was also working to recommend amendments to laws to increase the likelihood of convictions in such cases.
The interior minister said not a single human trafficker had been convicted in Pakistan in more than five years, adding that it was mostly due to victims’ families agreeing to pardons in exchange for money.
Given Pakistan’s deep economic woes, it’s unclear what effect any efforts to tackle irregular migration could have in the country.
Pakistanis are grappling with inflation at an almost unfathomable rate of 38%. A rapidly depreciating currency and external deficit led the government to adopt drastic measures over the past year to avoid a national default.
But those measures dealt a huge blow to domestic growth and jobs. The industrial sector, Pakistan’s economic engine, has contracted almost 3% in the current financial year according to provisional data. That has put a huge strain on a nation with a population of over 230 million and a generally young population that’s pushing 2 million new people into to the labor force every year.
Official unemployment data have not been published in two years. But Hafeez Pasha, a former finance minister and economist renowned for his work on Pakistan’s labor issues, has put the unemployment rate at a record “11-12%, conservatively.”
Behind only Egypt and Bangladesh, Pakistan has the most nationals currently being registered as arriving asylum seekers in Italy, the European border agency Frontex told the Reuters news agency.
Of the arrivals this year through May, a record 4,971 Pakistanis tried to make the central Mediterranean crossing in a single year, according to Frontex data recorded since 2009. 
Legal migration opportunities are limited, and that stark figure represents those who have actually made it to Italy.
Many, like the hundreds of people now lost from the boat off southern Greece, see no option but to try to make arrangements through agents who often present illegal routes as a quicker, cheaper, or even the only way to reach Europe, according to the Migrant Resource Centre, a EU-funded organization that provides information and counseling to migrants. 
In the village of Bandli, 11 desperate families were left clinging to hope Friday that they might still get word their loved ones were among the lucky ones rescued.
That hope was fading fast, and pain was already etched on the faces of the mothers, fathers and other relatives wondering if their loved ones were among the 12 Pakistani nationals who Greek officials say were pulled out of the water alive.
First published on June 23, 2023 / 1:15 PM
© 2023 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright ©2023 CBS Interactive Inc. All rights reserved.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top