ISLAMABAD: Pakistani authorities arrested 16 suspects on Wednesday for their involvement in human trafficking, a senior official said, a week after a fishing vessel sank in the Mediterranean Sea with around 750 illegal migrants onboard, many of them from Pakistan.
Greek authorities have said 104 people have survived the shipwreck while 82 bodies have been recovered. Hundreds remain missing as authorities say most of the migrants on the boat hailed from Egypt, Syria, and Pakistan. Meanwhile, Pakistan’s Foreign Office said 12 Pakistani citizens have been identified among those who have survived the shipwreck.
Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif last week ordered a high-level inquiry into people smugglers who provide access to Pakistanis to often overcrowded migrant boats that help them enter Europe illegally. Sharif had vowed stern action against all involved in the incident, adding that "heads will roll" if officials were found to be negligent of their duties.
"The FIA has registered 37 cases against human smugglers involved in the Greek shipwreck and arrested 16 of them so far," Abdul Ghafoor, a senior official at the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), told Arab News on Wednesday.
Ghafoor said the agency has registered cases against the alleged human smugglers in the Pakistani cities of Lahore, Gujranwala, and Gujrat.
“The DNA samples of 108 missing men's families have been obtained for the identification of those who were killed in the Greece shipwreck," he added.
On Monday, Pakistan's Ministry of Interior established a coordination cell to verify information about relatives of the passengers aboard the ill-fated boat and set up camp offices in Islamabad and the northern Azad Kashmir territory.
The coordination cell will also assist families of the passengers to give DNA samples as per the requisite parameters provided by the Embassy of Pakistan in Greece and coordinate with the Punjab Forensic Science Agency to prepare DNA reports sending to Greece, a notification from the interior ministry said.
As Pakistan reels from decades-high inflation that has hit the poor hard, thousands from the country's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Azad Kashmir province each year attempt to feel to Europe in migrant boats.
According to the United Nations, nearly 1,000 migrants have either died or gone missing while trying to reach European shores in rickety boats this year. In January, the Pakistani government confirmed nine Pakistani citizens died in two separate shipwrecks in Italy and Libya.