May issue 2009
Journey to Nowhere
Tears kept rolling from the eyes of a 13-year-old Afghan boy, falling on the dead body of his father that he held in his lap. The boy’s father was among the ill-fated men from Afghanistan’s Kapsia province to the north of Kabul, who were trying to cross the border into Europe in a container hired for transporting them up to the Iranian border.
Forty-five of the 105 Afghans died and 50 others fell unconscious due to suffocation: they had been crammed like sardines in a container that was taking them from the Mayzai Adda area of Balochistan, some 70 kilometres north of Quetta, to the Iran border.
“Our areas have been badly affected due to a long drought, forcing us to look for prospects abroad,” said one of the survivors, Shams-ur-Rehman.
They had reached Spin Boldak, the last bordering town of Afghanistan near Chaman, and after crossing the border, they had been transported in pickup trucks to Mayzai Adda, from where they travelled by container.
According to Shams-ur-Rehman, they paid Rs 30,000 each to Gul Agha, an Afghan agent involved in human trafficking, for transporting them to Iran. Incidentally, the “air conditioner of the container was out of order,” says Rehman. “After an hour-and-a-half into the journey, we began to feel suffocated. We desperately tried to inform the driver by banging on the container, but maybe he couldn’t hear us because there was a big gap between the container and the driiver’s cabin. I saw people falling over each other due to suffocation.
One could see death close at hand. It was frightening.”
The people heard the sound of groans emanating from the container at the Hazar Ganji truck stand, where the driver had parked after reaching Quetta.
Police official Mohammad Zaman Tarin revealed that around 105 people were crammed into the container, and the driver and his assistant fled the scene when it dawned upon them that some passengers inside the container had died.
According to an eyewitness, when people opened the door of the container, they found people piled on top of each other, and most of them appeared to have died. Some of them, who were still conscious, appeared delirious. All the passengers were shifted to the Bolan Medical Complex, where 45 were pronounced dead.
Thirty of the passengers were teenagers, and three among the dead teenagers were aged between 13 to 15 years.
The question is, how did this convoy of illegal immigrants sneak past the checkpoints? There are dozens of checkposts, not only at the Chaman border but several checkpoints, manned by the Frontier Constabulary and police, between Quetta and Chaman. And yet, a large number of Afghans succeed in making their way to Iran via Balochistan.
Gul Agha is one of the main trafficking agents from the Afghan side. FIA authorities maintain that they have approached Afghan authorities several times to secure his arrest but to no avail. However, Afghan officials, who came to receive the dead bodies of the 45 Afghan nationals, told newsmen in Chaman that Gul Agha resides in Jungle Piralizai in the Qilla Abdullah district of Balochistan, where a large number of Afghan refugees reside as well.
Some three years back, the European Union had taken serious notice of the illegal influx of people from Pakistan and warned that it would impose sanctions if the illegal traffic was not stopped. “Following incidents of terrorism in European countries, the EU had urged Pakistani authorities to take steps to curb illegal immigration or to face sanctions,” revealed an FIA official on condition of anonymity.
Although Pakistani authorities claim that they have used all available resources to stop human smuggling, it continues unabated despite the serious dangers it poses to all concerned.
Balochistan’s border with Iran is the main route used to transport people from Pakistan into Iran. Taftan, Mand Bilo and Gwadar are being used regularly by illegal immigrants, both from Pakistan and Afghanistan. From Iran, they enter Turkey and from Turkey they go to Greece, which is the first port of entry into other European countries.
The FIA, which has been entrusted with the task of combating illegal immigration, complains of a lack of resources. “We are totally dependent on other law-enforcement agencies, including the Frontier Constabulary, the coast guards and police,” says an FIA official and concurs that more steps are needed for checking the illegal immigration of Afghanis and Pakistanis.
Incidentally, people who are arrested in Pakistan or deported from Iran do not cooperate with the law-enforcing agencies due to which agents cannot be arrested, claim FIA officials.
A large number of agents in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran are involved in human trafficking, but so far the authorities have failed to break the chain of human smugglers.
At the behest of the FIA, Interpol has issued arrest warrants against 300 agents involved in human smuggling, but none of them have been arrested so far, says an FIA source.