A year after migrant shipwreck near Greece, bereaved determined to leave Pakistan

Family members hold photos of the victims of last year's Greece shipwreck tragedy as they gather to mark its first anniversary, in Lalamusa a town in Punjab province on June 14, 2024. (AFP)
Short Url
Updated 14 June 2024

A year after migrant shipwreck near Greece, bereaved determined to leave Pakistan

  • Pakistan is in the grip of a staggering economic downturn that spurs illegal migration, mostly by young men
  • Bereaved families plan a lawsuit in Greece, calling it unacceptable even to let illegal migrants drown at the sea

LALAMUSA, Pakistan: A year after the disappearance of his brother in one of the deadliest shipwrecks in the Mediterranean, Suleman Tariq wants answers. But, like other young Pakistanis, he is also determined to make it to Europe.

Dozens of families gathered at a wedding hall in the Punjabi town of Lalamusa on Friday to mark the anniversary of the rusty and overloaded trawler sinking off the coast of Greece, killing more than 600 people.

“Since my brother went missing, our financial situation has worsened. I have no choice but to leave Pakistan to help my family repay the loan we took,” said Tariq, whose brother Usman Tariq, was on board but not declared dead.

“There’s absolutely nothing in this country... However, I will only pursue legal avenues and will not follow my brother’s path.”

Almost every family from the surrounding area has a male relative who has traveled to Europe illegally over the past few decades in search of economic prosperity.

The country has one of the highest rates of emigration in the world, according to the United Nation’s International Organization for Migration (IOM).

“May Allah never let what happened to us happen to anyone else,” said Usman Tariq’s wife, 24-year-old Fakhara Usman, who gave birth to her second daughter just two months after the disaster.

“It is very hard. I live and die every day. It is extremely difficult.”

The family borrowed 2.5 million rupees (around $8,970) from relatives to pay smugglers to get Tariq across the risky waters.

The boat was carrying more than 750 people, according to the UN, but only 82 bodies were found.

Up to 350 Pakistanis were on the ship, according to the government in Islamabad.

Twelve survived while 15 bodies were recovered, and the rest declared missing.

“We are searching for any sort of information, which is why we are here. We hope to get some news and possibly find him,” she added.

Pakistan is in the grip of a staggering economic downturn that spurs illegal migration, mostly by young men who hope to get a financial foothold in Europe and send cash home.

The magnitude of the disaster however sparked a crackdown by Pakistan’s Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) who told AFP on Thursday that dozens of smuggling agents have been arrested since last year.

In May, a Pakistani court sentenced one of the accused, Muhammad Mumtaz, to 20 years in prison on charges of human smuggling and fined him 4.2 million Pakistani rupees.

Several other men are currently undergoing trials in various courts, the FIA added.

“Our poverty forced us to take this decision,” said Rehana Naz, a 50-year-old health worker whose son is still missing.

Tens of thousands of migrants, mostly from Syria, Afghanistan and Pakistan, have entered Greece in recent years from the sea and land borders with Turkiye.

The IOM has declared the Mediterranean passage the world’s most perilous migration route.

Around 3,155 migrants went missing there last year alone — surpassing the 2,411 disappearances recorded in 2022. While this year 923 are missing so far, according to the agency.

In Greece, survivors have alleged that the coast guard took hours to mount a response to the sinking ship, despite warnings from EU border agency Frontex and the NGO Alarm Phone.

The coast guard has insisted it communicated with people on board who “refused any help.”

Bereaved families in Pakistan are also demanding compensation from the government of Greece and are preparing to file a lawsuit in Athens.

“It was the moral responsibility of the Greek government to save the lives of these people. Their coast guard witnessed the shipwreck but did not act to save them,” accused Mehar Nasir Aslam, a 63-year-old lawyer and local activist who organized the anniversary event.

“Even if these people were entering the country illegally, they could have been arrested and deported. Allowing them to die is unacceptable, and therefore, we will file a lawsuit in Greece.”

Ex-PM Khan party activist Sanam Javed arrested in Islamabad after brief release — lawyer

Updated 8 sec ago

Ex-PM Khan party activist Sanam Javed arrested in Islamabad after brief release — lawyer

  • Javed has been in jail on charges of inciting people to violence over Khan’s brief arrest in May 2023
  • Khan’s party says it has been facing mass arrest of members for standing by Khan, authorities deny it

ISLAMABAD: Sanam Javed, a member of former prime minister Imran Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party, was arrested in Islamabad after her brief release in a case relating to street violence in Pakistan over Khan’s arrest in May last year, her party and lawyer said on Sunday.
Khan’s arrest in a graft case on May 9, 2023 saw hundreds of his supporters allegedly pour into the streets across the country, ransacking military and other properties.
Thousands, including Javed, were arrested in the aftermath and some were tried by military courts after the authorities promised to bring the perpetrators of the violence to justice.
Javed’s lawyer, Ali Ashfaq, said on X that she was once again arrested by the Islamabad police after being released on Sunday in a case relating to May 9 violence.
“We handed her over to police without resistance,” Ashfaq said. “This should be the way of law-abiding people and this is what we did.”

Javed was earlier released by an Islamabad court in a case registered against her by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) for allegedly inciting people to violence on May 9, 2023.
The PTI woman activist has faced a number of cases based on similar charges in Lahore, Gujranwala and other cities.
On July 11, the Lahore High Court discharged her in a case relating to May 9 riots registered against her in Gujranwala. However, she was rearrested by the Islamabad police as soon as she stepped out of the Central Jail of Gujranwala on Saturday.
Khan’s PTI party says it has been facing a crackdown and mass arrest of its members for standing by Khan, who has been in jail since August last year. Pakistani authorities deny the allegations.
On Saturday, Khan and his wife Bushra Khan were arrested by Pakistani authorities in a case involving illegal sale of state gifts, after a court accepted their appeals against a ruling that they had violated the country’s marriage law and ordered their immediate release.
Khan and his wife were sentenced to seven years in prison and fined in February by a court that ruled their 2018 marriage broke the law. Bushra was accused of not completing the waiting period mandated by Islam, called “Iddat,” after divorcing her previous husband and marrying Khan.
The ex-premier has been in jail after being convicted in four cases since last August. Two of the cases have since been suspended and he was acquitted in a third, so the Iddat case was the only one keeping him in prison.
Arguably Pakistan’s most popular politician, Khan says the cases against him are “politically motivated,” aimed at keeping him from returning to power. Pakistani authorities deny this.

Pakistani women married to Afghan nationals entitled to dual nationality, court rules

Updated 14 July 2024

Pakistani women married to Afghan nationals entitled to dual nationality, court rules

  • Peshawar High Court issued the verdict on 65 petitions filed by individuals who had Afghan citizenship, married Afghan nationals or had children with them
  • The petitioners moved the court after last year’s directives by Islamabad for all illegal foreigners to leave the country by November 2023 or face arrest

PESHAWAR: A high court in Pakistan has ruled that Pakistani woman married to Afghan nationals were entitled to hold dual nationality despite possessing the Afghan Citizens Card (ACC) or Proof of Registration (PoR), with a lawyer representing petitioners describing the ruling as a “landmark” development.
A two-member bench of the Peshawar High Court (PHC), comprising Justice Arshad Ali and Justice Wiqar Ahmad, issued the 62-page judgment, deciding 65 petitions on issues surrounding Pakistani citizenship filed by individuals who either had ACC or PoR cards, married an Afghan national or had children born to Pakistani-Afghan parents.
The decision, announced on July 9, came after a number of Pakistani and Afghan nationals filed petitions in the high court to seek relief following last year’s directives by the Pakistani government for all illegal foreigners to leave the country by November 2023 or face arrest.
“This is a landmark decision of the Peshawar High Court as several individuals were suffering for years. This is not an issue of these 65 individuals but thousands of individuals who have been suffering over some time now,” Nouman Muhib Kakakhel, one of the lawyers who represented the petitioners, told Arab News on Sunday.
“Pakistan didn’t have any dual nationality law with Afghanistan. This decision will pave the way for many to address their issues in the court.”
The verdict divided the case into four categories, including children born to Pakistani and Afghan parents with ACC or PoR cards issued in their name, Pakistanis holding an ACC who claim dual citizenship, Afghans married to Pakistani nationals seeking PoR or citizenship, and individuals who were Pakistani but were mistakenly declared Afghan and issued ACC cards.
“The situation that emerges from this analysis invariably leads one to a conclusion that a female Pakistani citizen who marries an Afghan citizen can retain dual nationality. Similarly, children born out of such wedlock can also retain their dual nationality of Pakistan as well as Afghanistan till attaining the age of 21 years,” the verdict read.
“They cannot be denied citizenship status as citizens of Pakistan for the reason that they are ACC or PoR holders. Their entry can co-exist, as such in NADRA database as well as in other databases of the government of Pakistan. Their CNICs [computerized national identity cards], if issued already, couldn’t be blocked for the reason that names of such persons have been found in the data of Afghan Citizenship or they have been found to be holders of PoRs.”
About such children, the court ruled that they would be “entitled to citizenship of Pakistan by issuance of Form B, notwithstanding the fact that they have been entered [as] ACC or PoR holders.”
The court ruled that the applications of Pakistani nationals, who had acquired ACC and PoR cards, would be “processed and decided swiftly by realizing that certain citizens of the state are also suffering and their grievances require to be remedied quickly.”
Hayat Roghani, a human rights activist, the verdict would encourage many Afghans and Pakistanis, who had been facing similar issues, to go to a court for relief.
“The Afghan refugees have lived together with Pakistani Pashtuns and have relations with each other,” he said. “The last year’s order of the Pakistan government to expel undocumented foreign nationals to their countries intensified the problems of Pakistanis too.”
Roghani noted that Pakistani Pashtuns and Afghan refugees had shared businesses and married each other, but the directives to expel foreign nationals made things difficult for them both.
“The decision of the Peshawar High Court is a precedent and many others will benefit from it in the future,” he added.

Pakistani minister, Iraqi envoy discuss possibility of free entry visas for pilgrims 

Updated 14 July 2024

Pakistani minister, Iraqi envoy discuss possibility of free entry visas for pilgrims 

  • Pakistani Shia Muslims Muharram travel to Iraq’s Najaf, Karbala cities during Muharram every year
  • Iraqi envoy assures Pakistan’s interior minister of making travel easier for pilgrims, says state media 

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan’s Interior Minister Mohsin Naqvi discussed the possibility of free entry visas for Pakistani pilgrims into Iraq with the country’s envoy Hamid Abbas Lafta, state-run media reported. 

Iraqi cities of Najaf and Karbala hold tremendous significance for Shia Muslims around the world, including from Pakistan, who travel to these cities during the first two months of the Islamic lunar calendar to recall the sacrifices made by Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). 

Lafta met Naqvi and Chaudhry Salik Hussain, the minister for overseas Pakistanis in Islamabad to discuss ways to improve the travel experience for Pakistani pilgrims in Iraq. 

“The discussion highlighted the possibility of free entry visas for Pakistani pilgrims and increasing the number of people allowed to visit each year,” the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) reported. 

Pakistan’s national airline last week launched special flights to Najaf city during Muharram for the country’s pilgrims. Pakistan said it would operate return flights for pilgrims from Najaf from July 20. 

Naqvi expressed “serious concern” about travel agents charging Pakistani pilgrims excessive fees, ensuring the Iraqi envoy he would take action against those breaking the law. 

“He also requested the Iraqi government to consider the issue of permitting Pakistani pilgrims to keep their passports while in Iraq,” the APP said. 

The Iraqi ambassador assured full cooperation in making travel easier for Pakistani pilgrims and provided a list of travel agents who had been overcharging visitors, the state media said. 

“The two sides also agreed to quickly finalize a visa waiver agreement for diplomats and officials from both countries,” APP said. 

The APP said both countries are additionally working on a deal that will make it easier for Pakistani workers to obtain work permits in Iraq.

Heavy rains leave 24 dead, 80 injured in Pakistan’s Punjab

Updated 14 July 2024

Heavy rains leave 24 dead, 80 injured in Pakistan’s Punjab

  • More heavy rains expected across the province on Monday, Tuesday
  • Authorities warn citizens against unnecessary travel in bad weather

ISLAMABAD: At least 24 people were killed and 80 others injured in rain-related incidents in Pakistan’s Punjab province over the weekend, the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) said on Sunday, warning of more showers in the next two days.
Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) this month warned that the country’s Punjab and Sindh provinces could face an “emergency” situation due to torrential rains this monsoon season.
Torrential rains lashed Lahore, Sargodha, Toba Tek Singh, Faisalabad, Kot Addu and Bahawalpur cities of the Punjab province in the last two days, according to the Punjab PDMA.
“At least 24 people were killed and another 80 were injured due to torrential rains, while around 40 houses were damaged since Friday across the province,” Punjab PDMA spokesperson Muhammad Mazhar told Arab News.
“Tonight, there are chances of heavy rains in different districts of Punjab, with more heavy rains expected across the province on Monday and Tuesday.”
The provincial government had directed authorities to provide financial compensation to relatives of the victims, according to the PDMA spokesperson.
Mazhar urged people to maintain a safe distance from electric poles and wires, and avoid gatherings on dilapidated roofs during the forecast period.
The PDMA has asked district authorities to activate round-the-clock control rooms to monitor situation in each district.
“Municipalities and the Water and Sanitation Agency (WASA) have been asked to remain vigilant, especially in low-lying areas, and keep de-watering and pumping stations ready,” it said in a statement.
Monsoon rains in Punjab are expected to continue till July 15, while the flow of water in the province’s rivers and barrages is at normal level for the time being.
“In emergency situations, call on PDMA’s flood helpline 1129,” the PDMA added.
Earlier in April, heavy rains triggered landslides and flash floods in Pakistan, leaving 92 people dead and another 116 wounded.
Pakistan’s Punjab reported 21 deaths from lightning and roof collapses while the country’s southwestern Balochistan province reported at least 15 deaths from torrential rains.
The NDMA this month launched a community engagement app for Pakistanis ahead of the monsoon season. The ‘Pak NDMA Disaster Alert’ mobile app generates alerts and updates guidance for organizations and individual responders in national and provincial languages.
Large swathes of the South Asian nation were submerged in 2022 due to extremely heavy monsoon rains and melting glaciers, a phenomenon linked to climate change, that damaged crops and infrastructure. killed at least 1,700 people, displaced millions, and inflicted billions of dollars in losses.

Pakistan court hands death sentence to mobile snatcher for killing Karachi youth 

Updated 14 July 2024

Pakistan court hands death sentence to mobile snatcher for killing Karachi youth 

  • Man found guilty of shooting dead 21-year-old in Sept. 2018 for resisting robbery 
  • Street crimes and mobile snatchings are rampant in Karachi, a city of 20 million people

ISLAMABAD: A sessions court in Pakistan’s southern port city of Karachi this week sentenced a convict to death on charges of killing a youth in 2018 for resisting robbery.

Additional District and Sessions Judge Ameeruddin sentenced to death convict Shakoor Khan on Saturday for shooting dead Sajid Hussain, 21, when he resisted Khan’s attempt to snatch his mobile phone on September 25, 2018. 

According to the prosecution, Hussain was sitting outside his home in Karachi’s Baldia Town area with his friends when Khan and his accomplice, Shoukat, attempted to rob them. Hussain resisted and a scuffle ensued following which Khan shot Hussain in the chest and fled with the accomplice. Hussain succumbed to his wounds on the way to the hospital. 

“The convict deliberately fired at the deceased from close range while the latter resisted a robbery of a mobile phone alongside co-accused,” the judge’s written order read. 

The court noted that the eyewitness testimonies, police investigation of the crime scene and medical evidence all corroborated the prosecution’s account. 

“Given these circumstances, the death penalty is a fitting punishment as a necessary measure to deter such heinous crimes of murder during robberies and to ensure that justice is served,” the order said. 

Karachi, a metropolis of 20 million that hosts the stock exchange and central bank, has for decades been beset by armed violence. While an armed campaign by the military, with help from police, paramilitary Rangers and intelligence agencies, against armed gangs and suspected militants in the city brought down murder rates after 2013, street crimes have been on the rise again since last year, with shooting deaths in muggings and robberies once again becoming a daily headline. 

The judge ordered Khan to pay compensation of Rs300,000 [$1080] to the legal heirs of the deceased. He also slapped the convict with a 20-year jail sentence for crimes committed under Sections 397 (robbery or dacoity, with an attempt to cause death or grievous hurt) and 392 (punishment for robbery) of the Pakistan Penal Code.

However, the judge said the guilty had the right to appeal against the sentence. 

The court observed that Karachi, once a vibrant city that is also the country’s commercial hub, now grapples with a “troubling surge” in crime rates, particularly mobile snatchings and robberies which are often compounded by acts of murder. 

It said that this surge in crime not only affects the sense of security of the city’s residents but also tarnishes Karachi’s long-held reputation as a prosperous urban center. 

“Stringent measures to deter crime are essential, with a focus on the swift and fair adjudication of robbery and snatching cases within the judicial system,” the court noted. 

“The imposition of appropriate and timely penalties will serve as a powerful deterrent for potential offenders.”