Greece boat tragedy: PM Shehbaz wants human smugglers traced, punished

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ISLAMABAD, JUN 18: In light of the recent Greece boat tragedy, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif on Sunday directed law enforcement agencies (LEAs) to trace those involved in human smuggling.

On Wednesday, an overloaded boat — with around 750 people on board according to a European rescue support charity — sank in open seas off Greece. Many Pakistanis are feared dead although the exact number has not yet been officially confirmed.

The Foreign Office said on Saturday that 12 Pakistanis had been found alive as National Assembly Speaker Raja Pervaiz Ashraf urged the government to “immediately investigate” the incident.

The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) has also formed a four-member team to track down those responsible.

In a statement released today, the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) said that PM Shehbaz directed LEAs to track down “agents” involved in human trafficking and called for bringing them to justice.

Further, on the instructions of the premier, the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had appointed DIG Alam Shinwari as the focal person to facilitate information regarding those who lost their lives in the incident and the injured.

The PMO handout said that the Azad Jammu and Kashmir chief secretary had also appointed a focal person to contact the Pakistani embassy in Greece and authorities in this regard, and for facilitating the injured and the deceased’s relatives.

An undated handout photo provided by the Hellenic Coast Guard shows migrants onboard a boat during a rescue operation, before their boat capsized on the open sea, off Greece on June 14.
PM Shehbaz also directed the FO to “immediately take action” on the boat capsizing and the reports of possible Pakistanis being among the victims.

Furthermore, the premier ordered Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah to submit details via his ministry and submit a report after conducting an investigation into the matter.

“Best efforts should be made for all Pakistanis. I will not tolerate any laziness and incompetence,” the handout quoted the prime minister.

He also ordered for a help desk to be immediately established for the families of those affected by the incident so that they are “alerted with all details”.

The PMO statement further stated Shehbaz “strictly” directed Pakistani ambassadors in Greece and Egypt to “take emergency measures”.

PM Shehbaz expressed deep grief and sorrow at the Pakistani lives lost in the boat tragedy and instructed the embassy in Greece to look after the 12 citizens rescued.

In another statement issued by the PMO later in the evening, the premier said June 19 (Monday) would be observed as the “Day of Mourning” across the country and the national flag would fly at half-mast.

FIA seeks information on perpetrators
A day earlier, the FIA had appealed to those having “information pertaining to the perpetrators and facilitators (agents/human traffickers)” involved in the incident to inform the agency and share the information with them.

In a tweet, it had said, “Any citizen having information pertaining to the perpetrators and facilitators (agents/human traffickers) of the horrific boat capsizing incident in Greece — including information about anyone who may have any involvement in sending abroad one or more of the victims of the said incident — […] are requested to share the information with the following officers of FIA Islamabad (ICT, Rawalpindi Division, Gujrat and Lahore).”

The FIA shared contact numbers and names of the officials at the said FIA offices along with their posts, as well as each branch’s email addresses.

“The names of citizens sharing the information will be kept strictly confidential,” it assured the citizens.

Pakistanis ‘forced below deck’
Meanwhile, The Guardian quoted survivors’ leaked testimonies claiming that “Pakistanis were forced below deck, with other nationalities allowed on the top deck where they had a far greater chance of surviving the capsize”.

It also said that “new accounts from survivors indicate that women and children were forced to travel in the hold” — a large compartment or space in the lower part of a ship — as well as that “certain nationalities were condemned to the most dangerous part of the trawler”.

The Guardian cited The Observer, its sister paper, as having “learned that Pakistani nationals were also kept below deck, with crew members maltreating them when they appeared in search of fresh water or tried to escape”.

A undated handout photo provided by the Hellenic Coast Guard shows migrants onboard a boat during a rescue operation, before their boat capsized at open sea, off Greece.
The report also cited claims that the vessel overturned in the early hours of Wednesday “because a rope was attached by coastguards”. However, these allegations were rejected by Greek officials.

It stated that the coastguard had said that it had kept a “discreet distance” from the boat. “But on Friday, a government spokesperson confirmed a rope had been thrown to stabilise the boat,” The Guardian said.

It quoted Maurice Stierl, of the Institute for Migration Research and Intercultural Studies at Osnabrück University in Germany, as saying: “The Hellenic coastguard speaks of a sudden shift in weight. So what caused the sudden shift in weight? Was there a panic on board? Did something happen during the attempt to provide them with something? Or was it towed? And due to this towing, did the boat go down?”

Furthermore, The Guardian said there were also questions over whether the Greek coastguard should have intervened to “escort the ageing trawler to safety”.

In the report, Stierl accused many EU countries of “weaponising time” by delaying rescue as long as they could. “They have managed to build in delays into European engagement at sea. They’re actively sort of hiding, in fact, from migrant boats, so that they are not drawn into rescue operations. We can see how a strategy is being created, that slows down — actively and consciously slows down — rescue efforts,” he said.