To live you have to die. Tragic. Illogical. Inhuman. That is how difficult pursuing livelihood has become in this country. The recent shooting at Turbat is a shocking reminder of how many young hopeful lives and families are being devastated, on a daily basis, by this urgency of taking the illegal and dangerous rout of crossing borders to find employment. The sad spectacle of bullet-riddled bodies of at least 15 men discovered by the Levies from Buleda area of Kech district near the Pakistan-Iran border of Gurok makes it imperative to give it more thought and action than just a “catch the culprits” command. These 15 people were the hope of hundreds of people related to their families who must have risked all their savings to sponsor this trip in the desire that once these boys reach foreign lands, they will cater the financial needs of the extended families.
The business of human trafficking and illegal visas and passports has become a huge racket as the youth exodus, in search of better economic opportunities, is increasing with every passing day. For this act of human smuggling to grow, there are specific pre-requisites. The first requirement is a category of the population that is in the job seeking market. The demographics of Pakistan make the country a lucrative market for this racket where there is a youth bulge. 60% of our population is under 30 years of age. That means about 120 million people. With a literacy rate of 58%, the likelihood of almost 50 million young –mostly uneducated– people, make them easy targets for racketeers in luring them, deceiving them, thus depriving them of their belongings and often the times of their lives. The number of jobless people in Pakistan is shockingly high. Institute of Policy Research reports that the unemployment rate is 8% while for youth it is almost double. The reason for this alarming rate is the below-par performance of agriculture and industrial sectors in the last five years. Exports, in general, have fallen and textile exports have nose-dived in particular. Power looms workers in Faisalabad are facing a crisis as almost 500 mills have closed down in the current year.
The more the unemployment and cost of living the more the human smugglers become active and organized to mint money from people’s desperation to seek employment abroad. This is not just the situation amongst the uneducated lot; the educated ones also fall into the trap. Previous destinations for semi-skilled and skilled workers were Saudi Arabia and Dubai. However, both countries have downsized jobs due to the recession and economic turmoil. The plight of Pakistani workers who were dismissed in thousands in Saudi Arabia was a story of woe last year with the result that these markets are no longer going to provide employment relief to our teeming jobless youth. Almost half a million Pakistanis have been deported in the last five years, and Saudi Arabia tops the list with nearly 275000 deportations. That is why the new illegal escapades are now focused on Iran, Africa, and Eastern Europe.
As businesses in exports and local markets go down, the industry of fake workforce exporters has flourished. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reported that criminal networks operating in Pakistan had generated about $927 million through human trafficking and migrant smuggling in 2013 and that in the last four years it increased manifold. There are thousands of agents operating in this field and crackdowns have been taking place as was reported by Ministry of Interior in the Senate. According to the report, FIA has arrested 2184 agents in 2016 only. According to the FIA, the primary routes used for human trafficking and migrant smuggling include Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates via Iran and Oman, Pakistan to Greece via Iran and Turkey, and Pakistan to Spain via Middle Eastern and West African countries.
The problem of trafficking is that what happens to these people, even if they manage to cross the borders, is a story that is frightening. Jobs are rare, and illegal immigrants live in perpetual fears of blackmail and exploitation. Trafficked people are exploited sexually, placed in domestic servitude, agricultural work, begging, manufacturing, construction, and organ harvesting amongst a host of other exploitative purposes. They have no rights, and no voice as their documents are illegal, and the fear of being caught makes them accept inhuman conditions and succumb to all sorts of human indignities. Their working conditions are unbearable; their pay is minimal, their benefits are nothing, and their job security is just a verbal order away.
The Turbat tragedy has shaken up the public, the media, as well as the judiciary. The Chief Justice took a Suo Motto notice on this incident. This is an opportunity to take some real steps to curtail this recurring tragedy. There are some long-term solutions as well as medium-term solutions to deal with this problem. The long-term solution will entail creating an enabling environment for at least one member of the marginalized family to get a job. Even if high literacy takes time, the government can plan functional literacy programs at the local government level or start what Indian government did, i.e., an Employment Guarantee Scheme. This scheme ensured spending on public works like roads and construction to create jobs. This was followed by a three-month job to one family member of the target families and technical training with certification to become employable after that. The medium-term solution is a review of the laws and tighter legislation and prosecution of the pending cases to deter the business of counterfeit passports, identity cards and travel agents who facilitate this bogus industry. Strict punishment on non-registered offices and agents is imperative. Community awareness programs that warn people on the dangers of these fraudulent agencies are vital to making people aware. With the social media now penetrating the rural market, viral graphics can help in creating necessary awareness.
The Chief Justice has taken an excellent call on this issue. What will make this call a turning point is if the apex court ensures not only that responsible people are punished but also creates accountability for the enforcement of laws. A court order that provides the development of a better system of deterring and regulating this tricky trade, a trade that is not just a trade of jobs and working hands but a trade that dehumanizes the heart and the soul, is desperately needed.